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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Heart Attack Vs Cardiac Arrest - What's The Difference?

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The recent sudden death of the King of Pop, Michael Jackson has been attributed to a cardiac arrest. However, the cause of the cardiac arrest has not been ascertained as yet. His death continues to be shrouded in mystery. It is only after the autopsy report is out that more light may be shed on the matter. His death has aroused a general curiosity among the populace as to the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack, confusing one with the other.

Both the terms have been interchanged by people and media often causing them to get mixed up. However, a cardiac arrest is NOT the same as a heart attack. So, what is the difference between the two terms?

Heart Attack:

To put it simply, the heart muscles get weak and damaged when there is "inadequate supply of oxygen" to it from its arteries. This occurs due to a blockage in the blood vessel causing the flow of blood to be decreased and therefore weakening the heart muscle. The weakened heart muscles cannot pump sufficient blood out and may stop pumping altogether. This condition occurs slowly over a period of time and the person may experience occasional chest pains until finally it collapses one day leading to a heart attack. A heart attack is always characterized by severe chest pain. In medical terms it is also referred to as a Myocardial Infarction.

Read about Heart Attack Warning Signs. A heart attack needs prompt first aid treatment in the form of a CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) and taken to the hospital as soon as possible to revive the heart.

Cardiac Arrest:

Also known as "Sudden Cardiac Arrest". The heart is an "electrical" Pump, which means that it requires electrical impulses to its "valves" to be able to regulate the flow of blood from one chamber to another and out. When this electrical circuit is disrupted or there is a sudden "short circuit" then the heart stops suddenly causing an "arrest". This condition causes a sudden drop in the blood pressure and blood is no longer forced into the muscles and organs of the body. This condition is known as "ventricular fibrillation" and is the most common reason for sudden death in patients. What is important in identifying this condition accurately is the fact that the brain is deprived of oxygen when there is a cardiac arrest or ventricular fibrillation, and if this oxygen deprivation lasts more than 3-4 minutes, it could cause death or even a state of coma. Prompt treatment WITHIN 3-6 Minutes in the form of "External or Internal Defirillation" or giving an electrical shock to the heart muscles is called for. If there is no defibrillator close by then CPR can be started and continued till the Ambulance arrives.

More about Defibrillators :

Read details about the causes, warning signs, risk factors and treatment of this condition here.

It is important to note that a heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. Therefore it is very important to GET HELP(call the ambulance) immediately, specially if a person collapses and stops breathing suddenly in front of you without any warning or signs of chest pain. Treat such cases as a cardiac arrest and begin to administer CPR.

Note: One should also differentiate between the terms Angina and Heart Attack. Angina is a symptom of "Coronary Heart Disease" or CHD also characterized by blocking of the coronary artery causing atherosclerosis.

"Angina pectoris (or simply angina) is recurring chest pain or discomfort that happens when some part of the heart does not receive enough blood and oxygen."

This pain is similar to the one that occurs in a heart attack, the only difference being that the pain in case of Angina goes away after a few minutes. Read details here:

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