Sudden Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack – Are They The Same Thing?

Facts about sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack

Although these two terms are often used interchangeably, they are NOT the same.

Sudden cardiac arrest is much worse than a heart attack. It is a condition in which the victim’s heartbeat stops abruptly and unexpectedly due to an abnormal heart rate or arrhythmia. A sudden cardiac arrest victim will have little or no fore-warning, will lose consciousness and collapse. Sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem, in that the heart rhythm malfunctions, the heart quivers and stops pumping blood, therefore the victim stops breathing, has no blood pressure or pulse. The only treatment for SCA and the only hope for the victim’s survival is that an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) be used within 5 minutes of collapse.

A heart attack is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart muscle is suddenly blocked. A heart attack victim will normally have symptoms including chest pains, radiating pain in the left arm, difficulty breathing, and/or nausea for hours, days or sometimes weeks before an attack. A heart attack is a “plumbing” problem caused by one or more blockages in the heart’s blood vessels, preventing proper flow. The heart attack victim will most likely remain conscious and the heart will normally not stop beating.

Sudden cardiac arrest can rapidly lead to irreversible brain damage and death if not treated within the first 4 – 5 minutes of the victim’s collapse. If the victim is not treated with defibrillation within the first 3 minutes following collapse, their survival decreased by 21%, and 10% for each minute beyond 3 minutes. Death will be unavoidable after 5-6 minutes with no defibrillation. Nearly 400,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually, making cardiac arrest a leading cause of death in the United States.