Did You Know A Heart Attack Is Not The Same As A Cardiac Arrest? Expert Answers


A sudden cardiac death, also known as cardiac arrest, is an unexpected death that occurs when the heart stops functioning. It is one the biggest causes of death in the world today, with over half of all heart disease-related deaths ending in cardiac arrests. After a cardiac arrest, circulation stops and there are four to six minutes before brain death and death occur. Chances of survival reduce by 7-10 percent with every passing minute.

However, heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrests are completely different from each other. These words are often used interchangeably, despite the fact they are not the same. What actually happens during a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

Heart attack and Sudden cardiac arrest – the difference

What is a heart attack?

Our heart requires oxygen-rich blood to function which is provided to the heart through the coronary arteries. “A heart attack occurs when these arteries are blocked and hence unable to supply blood to the heart. These blockages need to be addressed immediately, to limit the extent of permanent damage to the heart muscle,” says Dr. Rajesh T R, Consultant Cardiothoracic and Vascular surgeon, Kauvery Hospital, Bangalore.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

In a cardiac arrest, the heart just stops beating. The blood pressure drops and blood supply to all the organs, including the brain is affected.  Without blood flow to the brain, a person will lose consciousness. Death can follow instantaneously unless emergency treatment is instituted.  The cause of a sudden cardiac arrest may or may not be related to the heart.

What are the causes of sudden cardiac arrest?

The commonest cause is an abnormal heart rhythm. The commonest one is called Ventricular Fibrillation. Normally, electrical impulses are transmitted through the heart in a systematic fashion, which initiates a sequential contraction of the chambers of the heart leading to blood being effectively pumped to all organs of the body. In Ventricular Fibrillation also referred to as VF by doctors – multiple impulses are generated and transmitted through the heart in a rapid, random, and arbitrary way. This results in ineffective contraction of the heart and the blood pressure drops.

“Coronary artery disease can cause sudden cardiac arrest, especially if the block develops in the proximal segments of the main coronary arteries. Heart attacks are caused by coronary artery disease. Although they are both different, there is a link between them. A patient suffering from a heart attack can unfortunately have a cardiac arrest on their way to the hospital. Valvular heart diseases like Aortic Stenosis can cause sudden cardiac arrest,” adds Dr. Rajesh T R.

Sudden Cardiac Arrests and Indians!

Unfortunately, Indians are at an increased risk of succumbing to heart diseases and this number has been significantly increasing over the years. According to a WHO census, approximately 4280, out of every lakh Indians die due to cardiac arrests.

Also Read: Influenza Needs Symptomatic Treatment Instead Of Antibiotics And Long Term Cough Syrups

Management of sudden cardiac arrest – Basic Life Support.

The American Heart Association has simplified the emergency management of sudden cardiac arrest. This training can now be easily and effectively taught and is easy enough to emulate, even for someone with no medical background. This training is called Basic Life Support or BLS in short. BLS is very simple and everyone should be trained to do it. Using the technique of BLS, a trained person can keep a patient who has suffered a sudden cardiac arrest alive, until medical help arrives.

Steps of BLS briefly:

When a person collapses the most common cause is sudden cardiac arrest. The first step is to ensure that the environment is safe for both the victim and the BLS provider. If not, then move the victim to a safe place.

Call for medical help

Check for breathing and pulsation. Look at the chest for movements, Check the pulsations in the neck. Should not take more than 10 seconds.

If neither is present, then start chest compressions. The chest compression to breaths ratio should be 30 : 2, i.e. two breaths for every 30 chest compressions. A “Hands-only CPR” protocol is also recommended for laypersons, especially during present COVID times, wherein only chest compressions are recommended without breaths. This is also shown to be very effective.

BLS keeps a victim alive until medical help arrives.

Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency and if timely intervention is not done the condition is very fatal. A simple but effective measure which even lay persons can use is BLS. Everyone must be trained in BLS and it is easy to learn.

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