You need to know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest

As scary as both these heart-stopping conditions sound, they are not the same thing.

While there is a common link, it’s being able to recognise the important differences between the two that can save your life.

Heart attack

Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that cuts off circulation in the coronary arteries.

A blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. If the artery isn’t reopened, and quickly, that part of the heart begins to die. This happens to about 55,000 Australians each year, and around 9,000 of them die.

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The event can be immediate and intense, but the symptoms are more likely to start slowly and continue for hours, days and even weeks leading up to a heart attack.

If you think you are suffering a heart attack, call 000.

Do not try and drive yourself to the hospital. Paramedics are trained and experienced in treating heart attacks and will communicate vital information to emergency doctors. Arriving in an ambulance also gives you greater priority at the hospital.

If you are conscious and breathing CPR shouldn’t be necessary.

Cardiac arrest

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Cardiac arrests are a malfunction in the heart’s electrical signalling.

The heart suddenly stops due to a heartbeat inconsistency (what’s commonly called an arrhythmia) brought on by an electrical fault.

When its pumping action is disturbed, the heart struggles to move blood. Vital organs are immediately deprived of oxygen.

A person loses consciousness immediately and has no pulse. Within four to six minutes brain death and irreversible damage begins if you are experiencing a cardiac arrest.

In Australia deaths from cardiac arrest are estimated to be in excess of 20,000 a year.

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If you recognise the signs of cardiac arrest on someone near you call 000. If there is an automated external defibrillator (AED) available, use it immediately. If you know CPR, start and continue doing it until paramedics arrive.

Now, about that common link. While there are some very important differences between a heart attack and cardiac arrest, a heart attack can increase your risk of a sudden cardiac arrest.

There are also other heart conditions that can disrupt the rhythm of the heart and lead to cardiac arrest, such as heart failure, arrhythmias and a thickened heart muscle.

Would you be able to spot the signs of these conditions? Have you ever suffered problems with your heart?