“Is there a difference really?” is the first question that hits you right now! Yes. Of course! There is a phenomenal difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest.
Defining a Heart Attack
A heart attack is the result of improper blood flow to the heart due to a blocked artery. Until the artery is corrected and opens up as quickly as possible, the part of the heart nourished by blood from that artery begins to die. While rarely the symptoms are seen immediately, they often take hours, days or weeks before manifesting as a heart attack. But, longer the heart is left unattended without treatment, greater is the damage caused.
Defining a Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac arrest always happens suddenly, within the blink of an eye, without any prior symptoms or signs. Here, the main source of food to other parts of the body, blood, is hampered from flowing to other organs (such as brain and lungs) as the heart’s pumping mechanism is disrupted by an electrical malfunction. This malfunction causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). Such interrupted blood flow to vital organs makes a person lose consciousness and die within minutes if the victim is not given immediate treatment.
Most People are Confused: Plumbing or Electrical Problem?
People are often confused over a heart attack as it is acknowledged with different terms such as mild, massive or even as the widow maker. In layman terms, a heart attack is a plumbing problem while a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Certain heart attacks are harmful comparatively. For instance, widow maker is the term given to a heart attack due to blockage at the left anterior descending (LAD) artery. LAD is the primary artery that supplies blood to the front of the heart. Such attacks cause more significant damage. Blood levels of protein from the damaged muscle give an idea about the severity ratio but an ultrasound is the reliable option to exactly know the extent of damage.
The Broken Link
Seeming to be two non-connected problems, both these heart conditions have a common link. A heart attack might result in a cardiac arrest, but it is not mandatory that all heart attacks lead to an arrest. Fortunately, most heart attacks don’t result in cardiac arrests while they increase the risk for one! Sudden cardiac arrest can occur even during the recovery phase of a heart attack and most sudden cardiac arrests have their cause rooted as a heart attack. This is because, a person having a heart attack may develop a dangerous heart rhythm which can cause a cardiac arrest. Similar other heart conditions such as a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), heart failure and arrhythmias are capable enough to disrupt heart rhythm and cause a cardiac arrest.
Good news is that most of the people affected by a heart attack survive and the bad news is that, heart attack can be fatal irrespective of the degree of attack (big, small, mild or where it occurs does not matter). A heart attack and a cardiac arrest are both emergency situations that require immediate intervention.
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Dietitian & Nutritionist Dr. Nafeesa Imteyaz.