What’s the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack? Know the symptoms

Cardiac arrest and heart attack are two different clinical scenarios but are confusing and unclear to a common man.

Cardiac arrest is a condition where the heart stops beating, and it must be revived immediately to prevent death of the individual. There are various reasons as to why the heart stops beating; one of the common causes is heart attack. Other causes can be irregular heartbeat (electrical dysfunction) due to problems in the heart muscle or problems in the electrolyte balance in the body. Cardiac arrest leads to the inability of the heart to pump blood to vital organs of the body such as brain, the heart itself, kidneys, liver and gut, leading to death of the individual within minutes if not treated immediately.

Symptoms of impending cardiac arrest are sudden onset palpitations (abnormal awareness of one’s own heartbeat) or rapid dizziness, leading to a sudden loss of consciousness and/or death. Immediate cardio-pulmonary resuscitation is necessary to revive patients. This can be performed by any individual with appropriate basic life sciences training. This includes chest compressions and positive airway ventilation, while expert medical help is sought.

Heart attack is a condition which results due to loss of blood supply to a part of the heart muscle which could be a small or large part of the heart. It usually happens due to blockage in one or more of the arteries supplying the blood to the heart (coronary arteries). Heart attack may or may not lead to cardiac arrest.

Patients with a heart attack present symptoms like chest pain, pain in the jaw or shoulder, breathing difficulty, palpitations and a sense of impending doom. In many instances, it can occur silently without any symptoms. The symptoms and complications gradually increase in intensity and lead to greater damage over time, if left untreated. Common causes of coronary artery disease which lead to heart attack are diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking and family history.

Patients with a heart attack can be saved if identified and treated. Early medical attention and simple tests like ECG, echocardiogram and cardiac enzyme tests (Troponin) would help the physician identify the problem and treat it immediately. Treatment of heart attack can vary from medications to emergency PCI (stenting) or coronary artery bypass grafting surgery (CABG).

There has been a lot of advancements in surgical techniques and procedures can now be performed through minimally invasive and robotic-assisted CABG with excellent outcomes. Robotic-assisted surgery enables a patient to go home within 3-4 days of surgery and resume an active lifestyle within 2-3 weeks.

Patients with cardiac disease and coronary artery disease should seek medical help early and prevent problems before they occur, with lifestyle modification (less stress, healthy eating, regular exercise) and medication. Regular health checks and primary prevention to avoid cardiac risk factors would be mandatory for all individuals, especially over the age of 40.