Last modified on October 2020
With inputs from Dr. Pragnya Rao - General Physician
Across the world, cardiovascular diseases constitute some of the primary causes of death.
The World Heart Organisation, in late 2019, published an article on World Health Day specifying that over 17.9 million people die every year due to heart disorders.
In India, heart disease contributes to 28.1% of total deaths in India.
Cardiac arrests and heart attacks both pertain to the heart, but they are separate heart conditions. Although the two terms are sometimes used interchangeably in normal conversation, there are actually many differences between cardiac arrest and heart attack. Understanding the difference between them can help identify symptoms and provide the right patient care.
Today, both of these conditions are affecting an increasing number of people, irrespective of age. Unhealthy lifestyle choices and genetics play a huge role in why young Indians have become more susceptible to various heart diseases.
“While we are seeing more cases of heart diseases today, what’s even more concerning is that the patients experiencing them are getting younger. Due to the fast-paced lives most of us lead today, our health often takes a backseat. Because of this, the diets are getting nutritionally poorer and their lives are becoming more sedentary. I always tell my patients that the first thing they need to focus on is improving their lifestyles. Your health is always the most valuable asset you own.”
– Dr. Pragnya Rao, General Physician
Although cardiac arrests and heart attacks are severe heart conditions, they are not synonymous with each other.
To get a clear perspective of the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack, we should begin by looking at what each term means.
What Is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack occurs when the arteries that pump blood to the heart are blocked due to fat or cholesterol deposits. The fat deposits accumulate over time to form plaques in the arterial walls. A plaque can cause blockage in any of the arteries supplying blood to the heart (also known as coronary arteries) and this can exert strain on the heart muscles.
The heart needs blood which contains oxygen for its appropriate functioning, just as any other human organ. The impure blood, i.e., oxygen-less blood enters the right part of the heart and later goes to the lungs for purification. The oxygen-rich purified blood goes to the left side of the heart and is pumped to all parts of the body.
When an artery supplying blood to the heart is blocked, there is a prolonged lack of oxygen supply, which may cause severe tissue damage, thus leading to a heart attack. People who get a heart attack are immediately rushed to the hospital to restart oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. The faster this is done, the lesser the damage. Emergency procedures include placing of stents in blocked arteries, bypass surgery, or both to remove the blockage.
What Is Cardiac Arrest?
When a cardiac arrest happens, the heart stops beating suddenly and often unexpectedly. It is a severe condition, in which the person might turn unconscious and unresponsive. They will need on-the-spot CPR(Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation) and have to be rushed to the hospital immediately, without wasting any time.
The difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack lies in the way the functioning of the heart is affected. The muscle tissue of the heart is controlled by an electric conducting system that monitors the pumping and coordination of its various chambers. Any change in the electrical impulses causes irregularity of the heartbeats’ rhythm. This irregularity is called arrhythmia.
Cardiac arrests can be fatal as the body cannot function without the heart beating steadily.
Can a Heart Attack Cause Cardiac Arrest?
The main link between cardiac arrest and heart attack is that a heart attack has the potential to lead to cardiac arrest if not treated in time – however, this does not necessarily happen all the time.
If the blockage in the arteries of the heart is severe, or more than one tube is blocked, the decrease in regular blood flow to the heart could cause it to stop beating and result in a cardiac arrest.
On the other hand, cardiac arrest stops the beating heart, which prevents any blood flow to or from the heart, thus leading to multiple organ damage due to a massive shortage of oxygen-rich blood. More often than not, when a cardiac arrest occurs, a heart attack generally follows.
Who Is At Risk for Heart Diseases?
Generally, heart diseases are seen in people who are older. However, a variety of factors could cause anyone irrespective of age to fall victim to them.
An individual’s overall health, family history of cardiovascular diseases, and lifestyle can have an impact on how prone he/she is to heart issues.
Common risk factors that could lead to heart diseases are:
Older individuals are more prone to develop hypertension, which leads to heart problems. This is because the artery walls tend to become harder with age – a condition known as arteriosclerosis. The demographic in India more prone to heart attacks are men at the age of 45 or older and women who are 55 years or older.
Hypertension is a condition of high blood pressure which can exist for years before being detected. Arterial walls that have narrowed due to fat deposits affect the force of blood flowing in the arteries. Constant high blood pressure, if not treated, is detrimental to the proper functioning of the heart.
For years, heart attacks were considered a condition that affects largely men. This isn’t completely true; men just tend to get heart attacks at a younger age than women do. In general, men get heart attacks at around 7 years earlier than women do. One of the explanations cited for this is that estrogen in women is thought to protect them from heart attacks. However, once women reach menopause, they are thought to be more or less at the same risk for a heart attack as men.
Genetics play a big role not only in heart diseases but in the overall makeup of an individual. DNA contains genetic memory. Even a single change in the composition can change the response to heart diseases. If an individual is diagnosed with heart disease, the immediate family is predisposed to be susceptible. They are encouraged to get checked for any signs of diseases related to heart themselves.
Smoking remains one of the well-known risk factors of heart diseases. Unlike other factors, smoking is a modifiable risk factor and can be stopped before it causes serious diseases. The smoke not only harms the lungs, but it also tightens the arteries, making it harder to transport blood to the heart and other organs. Smoking causes blood to thicken, which has an impact on the functioning of the heart and blood vessels.
Statistics show that there is an increase in the number of heart attacks in the Indian population due to air pollution.
Almost 35% of patients with no other risk factors have been diagnosed with heart attacks due to air pollution.
Toxic gases and emissions from vehicles can affect the way our blood flows. Upon prolonged exposure, this could result in a sudden heart attack in a healthy person.
The BMI (Body Mass Index) is a metric that helps to calculate body fat and can be used to screen weight-related health problems of an individual. A BMI of over 30 is considered obese. Excess body weight increases the risk of developing diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol which in turn leads to the development of heart diseases. Losing even a few kilos of weight can go a long way in lowering the risk factor of heart diseases.
With diabetes, the sugar levels in the blood are high. Over time, the high glucose levels can cause damage to the nerves, arteries and muscles of the heart and weaken them. This is why patients with a long history of diabetes and who have poor control over their glucose levels are at higher risk of developing severe heart diseases, including heart attacks and cardiac arrests.
Pre-eclampsia is a condition which can affect women in the last trimester of their pregnancy. It is considered a risk factor for a heart attack because women with preeclampsia have blood pressure higher than the normal range.
– Heart attacks differ from cardiac arrests because of the varied nature of the underlying issue causing the heart to stop functioning.
– A heart attack is the result of an issue with the blood circulation that interferes with the pumping action of the heart.
– A cardiac arrest, on the other hand, arises due to electrical problems that impact the overall functioning of the heart.
– A risk assessment can be done to rule out potential risk factors that affect the heart of any individual.
You can consult a good cardiologist online on MFine to know if you are at risk for a heart condition.
Heart diseases are serious health conditions and need to be treated with haste to increase the chances of recovery.
There are differences between heart attack and cardiac arrest. But both of these diseases can be treated if the symptoms are identified quickly.
Heart attacks present very differently in both men and women. Sudden heart attack symptoms in women could sometimes be confused with heartburn or anxiety and be misdiagnosed. Hence, it is important to be wary of symptoms of a heart attack in order to detect the signs early.
One of the first symptoms of a sudden heart attack is a sharp pain in the centre of the chest which spreads or radiates. The pain starts as a mild discomfort before turning into a sharp stabbing pain. The chest pain will feel similar to a squeezing sensation and uncomfortable pressure. The pain spreads from the chest and all along the left arm. The pain can also spread to the jaw, back and stomach. However, it’s important to remember that not all patients experience pain in the same areas and that the symptoms can vary.
Shortness of Breath
Heart attacks happen due to insufficiently oxygenated blood going from the heart and to the other organs in the body. Shortness of breath is a result of low oxygen levels in the blood. Since the amount of oxygen in the body is drastically reduced, the heart has to work harder to carry out its functions.
A heart palpitation is a fluttery feeling that is caused by the heart skipping a beat or adding an extra heartbeat. Palpitations can be felt in the chest and neck. These can be symptoms of stress and anxiety, but if they are combined with other sudden heart attack symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, one should seek immediate attention.
With blocked or compromised arteries, the body has to put extra effort into keeping the blood circulating throughout to all the organs. This puts added pressure on the body and hence leads to profuse sweating. Constant sweating without any strenuous activity or at rest is an indication that something is wrong and should be tested further without delay.
There are a number of events leading to a cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrests need to be treated as soon as possible to prevent them from turning fatal. So what does a cardiac arrest feel like? Knowing the symptoms can help prepare for the next steps. It is important to note that cardiac arrest symptoms in female need not necessarily differ from symptoms in males like in heart attacks.
A few symptoms of cardiac arrest include,
Loss of Consciousness
When the brain doesn’t receive adequate oxygen to function, it leads to loss of consciousness in the individual. People who have previously experienced cardiac arrests, when asked what does a cardiac arrest feel like, say that it all happens so quick before they lose consciousness and total memory of the event itself. With cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping blood. Blood supplies oxygen to all organs in the body, including the brain. Sudden stopping of the heart makes it difficult for the brain to receive oxygen-rich blood and causes a loss of consciousness.
Lack of Pulse
You can see and feel the pumping action of the heart all through the arterial system, such as on the neck, or on the wrist where the arteries can be felt by one’s hands or fingers. A slowing down of the pulse or no pulse at all is an indication of some problem in the heart. In the case of cardiac arrest, the blood pumping stops and you might not be able to feel a pulse.
Lack of Breathing
The respiratory system of the body is under the control of the brain. In the case of cardiac arrest, blood flow to the brain is stopped, which causes the brain to shut down— and this includes its control over the respiratory system. A cardiorespiratory attack due to the lack of breathing needs to be attended to immediately. If the individual is not breathing, CPR should be administered immediately.
So can a heart attack cause cardiac arrest? More detail about this topic in the next chapter.
– The symptoms may differ in the case of heart attack and cardiac arrest, however, there are no differences in cardiac arrest symptoms in females as compared to those in males.
– Care should be taken especially if any of the risk factors for heart attacks or cardiac arrests apply to you.
Consult a cardiologist online on MFine to understand your symptoms of cardiac arrest
According to a study by the Lancet, smoking is one of the biggest causes of heart attacks in India
Regardless of the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack, you need to identify the causes to treat them accurately. This can help you take several preventive measures that could prove to be life-saving.
Fat or cholesterol Build-Up / Atherosclerosis
The walls of arteries harden up when deposits consisting of fat or cholesterol, that is plaque, stick to them. This condition is called Atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is one of the common causes of sudden heart attacks in Indian patients. If left unchecked, the plaque becomes unstable and starts blocking the arteries partially or fully, which reduces the space required for blood to travel in the blood vessels. If these blockages occur in blood vessels supplying the heart, the amount of blood supply required for the normal functioning of the heart reduces, leading to a heart attack.
Atherosclerosis is a common condition that happens as an individual grows old. Build up of plaques are primarily what causes a sudden heart attack as they eventually block the blood vessels limiting the supply of blood to the heart.
Coronary Heart Diseases
The fat that builds up in the arteries and blood vessels damages them over time. The blockage causes the individual to be susceptible to coronary heart diseases. Coronary heart diseases are also one of the major causes of sudden heart attacks. It is difficult to predict when coronary heart disease occurs, and it is the result of damage to the heart caused over a long time period. Risk factors for coronary heart disease include age and hypertension. It also is a possible cause for silent heart attacks or silent cardiac arrests.
Prolonged exposure to cold conditions or being exposed in cold water can lead to hypothermia, a condition where the body’s temperature falls to below 34 C or 95 F. Hypothermia causes electrical dysfunction in the heart and also affects other major systems in the body. This impacts the heart and could lead to heart attacks and sudden death if left untreated.
Substance Abuse & Alcohol
Excess alcohol consumption instigates the production of LDL, which is bad cholesterol. The decrease in blood circulation in the body due to the blockage is what causes a sudden heart attack. The damage caused by the unrestricted use of drugs and alcohol can even lead to heart attacks in healthy people if they do not abstain from these habits.
A cigarette is mainly composed of nicotine, which on long term exposure, causes hypertension and other severe diseases. This can increase a person’s risk of heart disease.
Even with the emergence of medical innovations, it is still challenging to treat cardiac arrests. However, if the base cause of cardiac arrests can be identified beforehand, the mortality rate is likely to reduce significantly.
One of the better-known causes of cardiac arrest remains a sudden heart attack. When the blood flow is compromised, the heart starts beating sluggishly. It also affects the brain, thereby impacting the normal functioning of all organs in the body.
Previous Heart Problems
Any pre-existing heart conditions already weaken the heart. A weakened heart can be more heavily impacted by a cardiac arrest than an otherwise healthy heart. A cardiac arrest is due to a malfunction in the electrical system running the heart. The cause of such a malfunction can be traced to any existing condition like arrhythmia, which causes irregularities in the heartbeat.
Scarring of Heart Tissue
Scars on heart tissue could exist due to surgical procedures aimed at repairing the heart. Too much scarring on the muscles of the heart could compromise the ventricles and disrupt the smooth functioning of the organ.
Cardiomyopathy is a condition where the heart becomes larger or more rigid. The heart tends to become weaker over time, impairing its ability to pump blood and follow a regular heartbeat. Without proper evaluation by medical professionals, cardiomyopathy could cause a cardiac arrest or arrhythmia.
Heart medications are prescribed to allow the heart to work properly after a heart attack, arrhythmia, or hypertension. However, in some cases, these medications could actually result in a cardiac arrest or arrhythmia.
Electrical abnormalities of the heart like the Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome and the Long QT syndrome affect how the electrical impulses travel within the heart. Any misdirection or error in the functioning of the impulses could lead to cardiac arrest.
Blood Vessel Abnormalities
Blockages, especially in major vessels like the aorta or coronary arteries can lead to a cardiac arrest. If these underlying conditions are already there, the sudden release of adrenaline due to physical activity could serve as a trigger.
The heart is a muscle comprised of atriums and ventricles. Ventricular fibrillation causes the heart muscles to quiver instead of beating regularly. The quivering disrupts the normal pumping of the blood vessels and could trigger the heart to go into massive cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest due to this condition is preceded by loss of consciousness followed by no palpable pulse.
– Although you are taking care to monitor any symptoms of heart attack and cardiac arrest, you need to first understand the cause for these diseases.
– Only by understanding the causes can you take preventive measures to delay or even minimize the effect of heart diseases.
Through MFine, you can consult a top cardiologist near you online to understand the causes of cardiac arrest
Witnessing someone experience a heart attack or a cardiac arrest can be very overwhelming. What’s worse is to feel helpless and to not know how to react. It is of utmost importance to learn basic first aid to save a life during such an occurrence. Read on to learn how you can save someone’s life by acting quickly.
Warning signs of a heart attack:
A person experiencing a heart attack can have any or all of the following symptoms:
Warning signs of a cardiac arrest:
For a conscious patient:
For an unconscious patient:
The following CPR steps can be followed till a medical professional arrives:
Step 1: Lay the person flat on their back
Step 2: Tilt the chin slightly and check for signs of breathing. If there is no breathing for 10 seconds, start chest compressions
Step 3: Lay your hands one over the other in the middle of their chest and press 2 inches deep at a pace of 100 beats per minute
Step 4: After 30 compressions, deliver two rescue breaths. Pinch the nose, tilt the head back and place your nose over the person’s open mouth. Blow into their mouth till their chest rises. Do this twice before resuming compressions.
– If a patient is conscious, loosen their clothes and get them to a hospital immediately (you can drive them there yourself if you have a vehicle.
– If the patient is unconscious, call for an ambulance and start performing CPR or chest compressions along with rescue breaths.
Consult a cardiologist online on MFine to learn important first aid tips for heart attack
Although India is witnessing rapid development in the medical sector, 1 in 4 deaths in India is due to cardiovascular disease.
The average age for an individual to be susceptible to any cardiovascular disease is 65; in India, the age is lower. In recent times, heart diseases are affecting people below the age of 45 too.
Lifestyle changes, environmental changes, and many other factors have increased the mortality rates within two decades.
In India, the heart disease mortality rate was 23.2 million in 1990, which shot up to 37 million in 2010.
As such, the best way to delay or negate heart diseases is by maintaining healthy habits.
Treating a heart attack or cardiac arrest:
In this day and age, most heart attacks can be treated successfully. It is important to note that a patient’s survival depends on how quickly they are treated. Quick thinking is even more crucial if the patient has a history of heart disease.
Medications that are vital during a heart attack include:
Life after a heart attack:
Most people live a long life after a heart attack. However, the risk of another attack increases if the patients are older. Prevention needs to be the first priority. Here is a list of things one needs to keep in mind to have a healthy heart.
Risk factors for heart diseases like age and genetics are unavoidable. However, some preventable actions can be taken with some risks that drastically lowers the occurrence of cardiovascular diseases.
The best way to avoid cardiorespiratory attacks is to cut down on the harmful habit of smoking. Not only does smoking harm the smoker, but the second-hand smoke emitted is also equally dangerous to bystanders. If it is difficult to stop smoking, the individual should consider treatment for the addiction.
Although there is speculation that moderate consumption of alcohol might help in preventing heart diseases, there is no actual science that backs up the statement.
Drinking increases the level of lipids in the body. Lipids are fats that form into arterial plaque and increase bad cholesterol levels. Cutting back on the amount of alcohol you are consuming can improve your overall health.
A proper exercise regime can protect you from heart disease. The heart speeds up its processes to compensate for the increased activity of the body.
According to the journal of John Hopkins Hospital, resistance training and aerobics are the best forms of physical activity for maintaining heart health.
These exercises reduce blood pressure and improve circulation of blood in the body. By far, the most important form of exercise that helps maintain BP and adequate functioning of the heart is cardio.
Maintain Healthy Weight
Being on the heavier side of the weight spectrum brings with it many health complications, which include heart diseases. The risk of heart disease is linked to other health problems in overweight individuals like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. Healthy weight management helps in keeping cholesterol levels at optimum levels and in reducing the chances of getting diabetes. The ideal BMI range for an average individual to avoid severe heart disease is somewhere between 18.6 to 24.9. Following obesity diet charts and adhering to it can help you lose the extra weight.
You need to follow a diet that is high in nutrition and low in harmful substances like trans fats and saturated fat. Natural dietary sources of Omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, fibre, and proteins are the best foods for lowering cholesterol and fat build-up in the arteries.
You can include a few specific food items into your regular diet that can provide maximum nourishment for the body.
If you are a non-vegetarian, rather than red meat, try to choose a healthier meat option like fish. All seafood has some amount of Omega-3 fatty acids. The fish with the most amount of these fatty acids are salmon, mackerel, cod, and sardines. Omega-3 fatty acids improve the blood lipid profile. The occurrence of cardiovascular disease due to bad cholesterol is reduced with the consumption of healthy omega-3 acids.
A legume-heavy diet which includes all pulses in moderation reduces the chances of heart disease. Legumes are a preferred choice over carbohydrates like rice because most legumes are rich in plant proteins, fibre, and many other micronutrients that are required for a healthy body. Black beans, in particular, are a great source of heart-friendly antioxidants.
Fruits and Vegetables
A colourful plate not only fills the stomach but also brings a sense of satisfaction within us. A plate full of fruits or filled with delicious vegetables is one of the best ways to combat heart diseases. Fruits like berries are a powerful source of antioxidants and should be included in your diet
Whole grains like brown rice, whole wheat, oatmeal and buckwheat are high in fibre. Because of their fibre content, they can lower blood pressure and improve heart health. You should swap out sources of refined carbs like white bread and white rice with whole grain alternatives.
Consuming too much sodium can increase your blood pressure, which in turn increases your risk for a heart attack. Many processed foods and fast food are very high in sodium. The best way to lower your sodium intake is to prepare all your meals at home with wholesome ingredients. Rather than seasoning your food with a lot of salt, you can try adding spices and herbs for a flavoursome meal that is low in sodium.
Healthy fats like omega-3s are extremely important to maintain and improve your heart health. There are a number of healthy sources of fat in the form of seeds and nuts. Some of the sources of healthy fat include flaxseeds, olive oil, avocado and walnuts.
– Keeping yourself healthy is a priority not only for those susceptible to heart diseases but even in completely healthy individuals.
– Taking care of your heart health includes eating right and avoiding harmful habits such as smoking and alcohol consumption.
– A healthy diet, along with an appropriate fitness plan, is the best way to avoid heart diseases for as long as possible.
Consult a cardiologist online on MFine to get expert advice on heart health!
Q1. How long can you live after suffering from a heart attack?
This depends upon the severity of the heart attack and whether a person has had a heart attack previously. Consulting with a cardiologist on medical, diet and lifestyle changes can greatly improve life expectancy after a heart attack.
Q2. How are symptoms of heart attack different for women?
Symptoms of heart attack are different in men and women. Women might experience shortness of breath, a squeezing sensation in their chest and pain in the jaw, neck and back. Unlike in men, women can experience a heart attack without chest pain.
Q3. Can you recover from cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is a sudden stop to the beating of the heart. This can affect various organs of the body since there is a lack of blood supplied to them. This results in a loss of consciousness.
Since massive cardiac arrests impact neurological and respiratory function, the chances of survival are slim. The survival rate from a cardiac arrest increases significantly with prompt CPR and hospital admission.
Q4. Can stress cause heart disease?
In recent times, stress has increased in the younger generation. Stress about work, stress about health, stress about children’s education—there seems to be no end to it. However, stress management is an important life skill.
Stress produces the hormone cortisol, which gives the body energy to go about any activity. But a huge amount of cortisol over a long period of time is detrimental to the body as it may increase your blood sugar levels and cause hypertension, which ultimately may result in heart disease.
Q5. Is CPR effective against a heart attack or cardiac arrest?
CPR or Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation is a manual procedure done to keep the blood flowing and restart the heart.
In CPR, the heart is manually pumped by pressing down on the chest. The person performing the procedure blows air into the affected individuals’ lungs in tandem with the manual pumping. This is a first-aid procedure that, when performed correctly, can help in preventing death due to heart attacks or cardiac arrests.
What is the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack? Is there any difference between myocardial infarction and cardiac arrest?
Myocardial infarction (sometimes confused with a silent cardiac arrest) is simply the scientific name for heart attacks. There is a significant difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack.
Heart attacks differ from cardiac arrests because, in a heart attack, the arteries are blocked wholly or partially, making it difficult for the heart to function. In contrast, a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem where the system that controls the overall functioning of all cardiovascular activities undergoes a glitch.
Q7. Can I prevent a heart attack?
It’s difficult to predict the occurrence of a heart attack unless you understand all the risk factors. While risk factors like age and genetics are out of your control, you can avoid heart attacks by making lifestyle changes.
Habits like smoking and drinking excessive alcohol can be stopped for a healthy way of life. Managing weight has to become a priority as being overweight and eating unhealthy food increases the risk of a massive heart attack and death.
Q8. Even if there is no risk of heart disease, should a checkup still be done?
The risk of heart diseases will undoubtedly increase with age. Even if there is no risk, it is better to get a yearly checkup done that rules out any degeneration in the functioning of the heart.
An annual exam includes checking blood pressure levels, performing an ECG (EchoCardiogram) and other tests on overall health. The tests may also include a risk assessment based on which follow up exams would be scheduled.
You can consult a cardiologist online on MFine to evaluate your risk factors for heart disease
It is important to not only understand the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack but also that there is a clear link between the two. Although the causes are varied, the aftermath of one heart condition can trigger the other.
Understanding the underlying risks and keeping yourself medically informed is the way to avoid heart diseases.
And even with these measures, if a heart attack or cardiac arrest does occur, being vigilant about the signs and quick action can help in preventing severe consequences.