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Explaining the Differences Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

If you enjoy sports or music or both, you have likely heard the term cardiac arrest across numerous media and digital platforms over previous weeks attributed to one athlete’s battle and a music icon’s sudden death.

Buffalo Bills safety, Damar Hamlin, and Elvis’ beloved daughter, Lisa Marie Presley, both had heart-stopping experiences resulting in hospitalization where the younger male football player lived and the 54-year-old female musician died.

Conversely, on a personal note, a 95-year-old client of Home Helpers® reached out to my staff to postpone a caregiver’s visit because she had been hospitalized for a couple of days after having a mild heart attack. Her doctor diagnosed the elderly woman with acute congestive heart failure, and when the caregiver visited a few days later, she couldn’t help but notice how this cardiac event had weakened the woman’s spirit as well as her physical and mental status.

So, what is cardiac arrest and how is it different than a heart attack? Those were questions posed to the medical community after the high-profile players became the subjects of news stories, and this is what I wanted to explore further after paying my own visit to our dear elderly client.

The American Heart Association (AHA) says, “People often use these terms interchangeably, but they're not the same. A heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked. Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem.”

Heart Attack

Blocked arteries are the culprits that prompt heart attacks. When an artery that normally feeds oxygenated blood to a chamber of the heart becomes blocked, the blood cannot reach the heart and the area begins to die. “The longer a person goes without treatment, the greater the damage,” says the AHA.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists the following symptoms of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Shortness of breath

The AHA continues, “Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense or start slowly with mild symptoms. It’s important to note that it’s also possible to have mild symptoms or even no symptoms at all and still have a heart attack. Unlike with sudden cardiac arrest, the heart usually doesn’t stop beating during a heart attack. The heart attack symptoms in women can be different than in men.”

If you experience symptoms of a heart attack CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY! Remember, the longer an area of the heart goes without proper blood nourishment, the greater the damage to the cardiac tissue.

Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest comes with no warning signs or symptoms, although a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest happens suddenly when the electrical current to the heart is disrupted causing an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat). When the heart can’t pump blood, the brain, lungs and other organs do not get the oxygen they need causing a loss of consciousness and pulse. Death typically occurs within minutes if no treatment is administered.

“These two distinct heart conditions are linked. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Many heart attacks don't immediately lead to sudden cardiac arrest, but when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause. Other heart conditions may also disrupt the heart’s rhythm and lead to sudden cardiac arrest. These include a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), heart failure, arrhythmias, particularly ventricular fibrillation, and long Q-T syndrome,” the AHA explains.

February is Heart Health Awareness Month, so I strongly encourage you or a senior you know who has cardiovascular conditions, has experienced a heart attack, or survived a cardiac arrest to consider the benefits of having a licensed, bonded, and insured caregiver who is highly trained and skilled to provide in-home care services to promote senior independence and make life easier, happier, and healthier!

The compassionate caregivers at Home Helpers® routinely provide nutritious meals that meet all dietary restrictions and requirements; offer gentle hydration and medication reminders that are very important; and support recommended exercise practices.

I gladly offer a FREE Consultation to identify and discuss specific needs so I can create a Cared-4℠ custom care plan personalized expressly for you or your senior loved one.

We, at Home Helpers® Clearwater, are honored to have received the Home Care Pulse – Best of Home Care® Provider of Choice Award 2016-2022 and the Best of Home Care® Employer of Choice Award 2022. We proudly serve male and female seniors in Clearwater, Dunedin, Palm Harbor, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs, Holiday, New Port Richey, Trinity, Port Richey, Hudson, and surrounding areas. Home Helpers®…we are Making Life Easier℠ 727.942.2539


American Heart Association

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention