Health Care

Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack: Know the Signs to Save a Life

A patient having her heart listened to.

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What makes cardiac arrest so dangerous is the sudden and drastic nature of its effects. With only about an 8% survival rate for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest when treated by emergency services, quick medical attention is clearly required to survive.

Cardiac arrest is often confused as the same thing as a heart attack, but the two have key differences. Being able to identify cardiac arrest risk factors and early signs in yourself and your loved ones could help you save a life.

Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly. It’s triggered by an electrical failure in the heart and causes an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. A person suffering from cardiac arrest may become unresponsive, is unable to breathe or is gasping for air. Symptoms include:

  • Suddenly collapsing
  • No breath
  • No pulse
  • Loss of consciousness

In contrast, a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked.

Heart attack symptoms include:

  • Tightness, squeezing, pain or pressure in the chest/upper body (this feeling may go away and then come back)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating/cold sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble Sleeping
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Nausea/vomiting

Most often, these symptoms are subtle and may go undetected as they creep up slowly, sometimes lasting for days or even weeks before the attack. Many people brush off symptoms as the flu, stress or simply feeling under the weather. Always seek help to be sure.

Risk Factors

Cardiac arrest occurs in both children and adults, but much more commonly in adults.

Some probable causes of heart attacks in younger people include:

  1. Undiagnosed cardiomyopathy or hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that can predispose a person to an enlarged heart or a thickening of the tissue that could lead to a sudden heart attack
  2. Congenital abnormalities of the arteries, where the arteries are not hooked up correctly and can compress and lead to sudden death
  3. Undiagnosed arrhythmogenic issues where there is an electrical issue in the heart that was unknown that could have led to a sudden heart attack and death

Adults should stay on top of their routine checkups and blood pressure levels to get ahead of potential arrhythmias.

Don’t Hesitate to Seek Help

Early intervention is key to avoiding what might become deadly cardiac arrest. The earliest signs to look for might be things you can’t necessarily see or feel, like high blood pressure and diabetes, but also weight and previous health history. It's important to get your checkups, your bloodwork and your blood pressure done to look for any signs. If you control the risk factors, your outcome is much better.

Most cardiac arrests occur at home. Performing CPR or even just compressions to the chest can improve the chances of survival until emergency medical teams arrive.

If you suspect you or a loved one are having a heart attack or cardiac arrest, call 911. It’s best to call for emergency help than to risk underestimating your symptoms and remember you can always chat with your primary care provider if you have any heart health concerns.

If you need help finding a primary care physician or scheduling an appointment, please call the Member Experience Center at Call855-747-7476.

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