Is it a Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest?

Heart attack and cardiac arrest facts

Public awareness of CPR and Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) is growing, but are you able to discern the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest? Do you know when to perform CPR or use an AED?

At, part of our mission is to educate the public on recognizing Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the awareness of AEDs, performing bystander CPR before the paramedics arrive and using the defibrillator to shock the victim when needed.

Many people use the terms “heart attack” and “cardiac arrest” interchangeably, but there are major differences between a Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). A Heart Attack is a “plumbing” problem, in which the victim may present with warning signs like chest pains days, weeks or minutes before an event. During a heart attack, the heart is still beating, but blood flow decreases due to a partially blocked or clogged artery. The person may or may not lose consciousness. Having a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.

Though a heart attack is very dangerous, cardiac arrest is much worse. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an “electrical” problem, in which the electrical function of the heart is interrupted and the heart begins to quiver erratically, completely unable to pump oxygenated blood to the rest of the body. If you witness a teen or adult suddenly collapse and find that they are not breathing, they are suffering from cardiac arrest and require immediate CPR and defibrillation to survive.

Seconds matter. Chances of survival decrease by 10% for every minute that passes without CPR and a shock from a defibrillator. After 10 minutes without oxygen to the brain, it is unlikely the victim will survive. If revived, the person may suffer irreparable brain damage.

Why CPR? Performing immediate CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) is key to survival. CPR forces blood to continue pumping to the vital organs. When the heart doesn’t pump normally, it begins to fill with blood, enlarging the vital organ and causing it to harden. In this case, the heart becomes less likely to receive defibrillation to restart the heart.

Can an AED do more harm? If an AED is available, it should be retrieved immediately and applied to the victim. AEDs are portable medical devices capable of automatically analyzing the patient’s heart rhythm and determining if a shock is needed. 50% of the time, a person in SCA is in a “shockable rhythm”. If no shock is needed, the AED will not shock the patient and you should continue with CPR. The AED will continuously analyze to determine whether the heart falls into a “shockable” rhythm.

Why do they need an electrical shock? When a shock is advised and delivered to the patient through the electrodes, the shock stops the chaotic quiver and allows the heart’s natural pacemaker to kick in, hopefully restarting a normal rhythm. It is common for some cardiac arrest victims to need more than one shock.

It is so important to have AEDs located in businesses, public spaces, schools, churches, gyms, etc for witnesses/rescuers can take action immediately. Waiting for EMS to arrive in many cases is too late. is the definitive source for new and recertified AEDspadsbatteries, AED Program Management and more. Visit us online or call us at 855-233-0266 to speak with a specialist today!