Difference Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest


Have you ever thought that cardiac arrest is a heart attack? Many people are not aware of the fact that there is a distinction between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. They both have different conditions, but the terms are most used interchangeably in everyday conversation. However, if you look closely, they represent entirely different medical emergencies. In this blog we will explore in detail information about cardiac arrest and heart attack difference. Let's understand the distinct causes, symptoms, and consequences of cardiac arrest vs heart attack.

What is a heart attack?

Is heart attack and cardiac arrest the same? Let's understand what a heart attack is first? Heart attack is referred to as a myocardial infarction. It occurs when there is a blockage in one or more coronary arteries. This blockage usually results from the buildup of fatty deposits, cholesterol, and other substances known as plaque. When a coronary artery is blocked, it restricts or completely cuts off blood flow to a portion of the heart muscle. Therefore, the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle is blocked. This leads to the damage or injuries to that muscle tissue.

What is cardiac arrest?

Let's understand the difference between cardiac arrest vs attack? Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. Leading to an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia. This irregularity disrupts the heart's ability to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body. Which causes the heart to stop beating altogether. Unlike a heart attack, which involves a blocked blood vessel. Cardiac arrest is primarily an electrical problem in the heart. It can happen suddenly and without warning, often resulting in the individual losing consciousness. The individual suffering needs immediate medical intervention to restore a normal heart rhythm.

How do the symptoms of a heart attack differ from of a cardiac arrest?

It is crucial to understand the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack, including their respective symptoms. We will explore the unique symptoms that distinguish a heart attack from a cardiac arrest so that you can take preventive measures with ease. Knowing the symptoms of a heart attack can help you recognise warning signs and seek immediate medical attention. On the other hand, understanding the symptoms of cardiac arrest can enable you to perform life-saving CPR until medical professionals arrive. By being aware of these distinctions, you can effectively protect yourself and others from potential heart-related emergencies. Refer to the table below to understand the cardiac arrest and heart attack difference.

Symptom comparison table of cardiac arrest vs heart attack


Cardiac Arrest

Heart Attack

Chest Pain

Chest pain is rare in cardiac arrest.

Common, often described as crushing or squeezing pain in the chest.

Loss of Consciousness

Sudden, with little to no warning

May or may not occur. Some heart attack victims remain conscious.


Stops abruptly

Usually it continues but may be rapid and shallow.


Absent or very weak

Generally present but may be rapid, or irregular.

Skin Color

Turns pale or grayish blue

Skin may become pale or ashen.

Shortness of Breath

Sudden and severe

May occur, especially in combination with other symptoms.

See Also - Difference Between ECG and ECHO

What are the causes and risk factors for a cardiac arrest vs. heart attack?

The causes and risk factors of Cardiac arrest vs heart attack are different. A heart attack occurs when blood flows to a part of the heart muscle is blocked, typically due to a blood clot in a coronary artery. The primary risk factors for heart attacks include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, family history, and age.

Conversely, cardiac arrest results from an electrical malfunction in the heart. Further, causing it to stop beating effectively. Common causes include underlying heart conditions like arrhythmias, prior heart attacks, drug overdose, or severe trauma. Risk factors for cardiac arrest may include a family history of sudden cardiac events, certain medications. Both conditions need prompt medical attention and preventive measures to reduce associated risks.

Causes of Heart Attacks

It's important to note that there are commonalities in some risk factors, such as family history and underlying heart conditions. Understanding heart attack causes is crucial for prevention and early intervention.

  • Coronary Artery Blockage: A heart attack typically occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked or narrowed due to the buildup of plaque, causing reduced blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Atherosclerosis: The underlying cause is atherosclerosis, a condition characterized by the accumulation of cholesterol and fatty deposits in the arteries.
  • Smoking: Smoking is a significant risk factor for heart attack due to its impact on artery health.
  • High Blood Pressure: Hypertension increases the risk of heart attack by straining the heart and arteries.
  • High Cholesterol: Elevated levels of LDL cholesterol contribute to plaque formation in the arteries.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes can damage blood vessels, heightening the risk of heart attack.
  • Family History: A family history of heart disease raises the likelihood of a heart attack.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of heart attack.

Causes of Cardiac Arrest

It's important to know the cardiac arrest causes because they have different reasons and risk factors. Let's look at what leads to each of these heart problems and what makes them different.

  • Electrical Disturbances: Cardiac arrest primarily results from electrical disturbances in the heart's rhythm, such as ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. These abnormalities disrupt the heart's ability to pump blood effectively.
  • Underlying Heart Conditions: Cardiac arrest can be triggered by underlying heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathy, and congenital heart defects.
  • Drug Overdose: Certain drugs, such as opioids, can increase the risk of cardiac arrest by affecting the heart's electrical signals.
  • Trauma: Severe trauma or injury to the chest, including blunt trauma or penetrating injuries, can lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Prior Cardiac Arrest: A previous episode of cardiac arrest increases the risk of recurrence.
  • Family History: A family history of sudden cardiac arrest or certain genetic conditions can elevate the risk.
  • Heart Conditions: Having heart diseases, including coronary artery disease, heart failure, or certain arrhythmias, raises the risk.
  • Drug Abuse: Substance abuse, especially with drugs like cocaine and amphetamines, can contribute to cardiac arrest.
  • Age: The risk increases with age, with older individuals being more prone to being affected.

Diagnosis of Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest

Now that we have understood the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest, it's critical to diagnose heart-related symptoms quickly and accurately. The diagnosis of a heart attack relies on a combination of medical history, physical examination, ECG results, and blood tests to confirm myocardial damage. In contrast, cardiac arrest is diagnosed based on the clinical presentation of sudden loss of responsiveness, absence of normal pulse or breathing, and the use of AEDs and CPR for initial assessment and intervention. Diagnosing a cardiac arrest vs heart attack is different because they are unique conditions. Here we will understand the basic diagnosed process used for cardiac arrest vs heart attack.

Diagnosing a Heart Attack

Diagnosing a heart attack includes looking at the patient's medical history, doing a physical exam, using an ECG, and checking blood tests. Sometimes, they also use imaging to see how severe it is. This helps doctors decide on the right treatment.

Medical History and Physical Examination

A healthcare provider will typically start by taking a detailed medical history and conducting a physical examination. They will inquire about the patient's symptoms, risk factors, and family history.

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)

An ECG is a fundamental tool in diagnosing a heart attack. It records the electrical activity of the heart and can reveal abnormal patterns associated with a heart attack.

Blood Tests

Blood tests are conducted to measure cardiac biomarkers, such as troponin and creatine kinase. Elevated levels of these markers in the bloodstream can indicate heart muscle damage.

Imaging Tests

Additional tests, such as a coronary angiogram or cardiac CT scan, may be performed to assess the extent of blockage in the coronary arteries.

Clinical Symptoms

Clinical symptoms, including chest pain or discomfort and the presence of associated symptoms like radiating pain, shortness of breath, or nausea, are considered in the diagnosis.

Diagnosing Cardiac Arrest

Diagnosing cardiac arrest relies on assessing for signs of life absence and starting urgent lifesaving actions like CPR and defibrillation.

Assessment of Unresponsiveness

The first step is to check for the person's responsiveness. If they are unresponsive and not breathing or gasping for air, it may indicate cardiac arrest.

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)

Begin CPR if the person is unresponsive and not breathing. CPR involves chest compressions to help circulate blood and rescue breaths to provide oxygen.

Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

Use an AED to analyze the heart's rhythm and administer an electric shock if necessary to restore normal heart rhythm.

Medical Assessment

Paramedics or healthcare professionals will arrive and continue resuscitation efforts, assess the person's condition, and provide further treatment if needed.

What are the treatment options for a heart attack vs. cardiac arrest?

The treatment strategies for a heart attack or cardiac arrest differ significantly. Given the distinct nature of these cardiovascular conditions. Prompt recognition of cardiac arrest vs heart attack is critical for appropriate treatment. Understanding the appropriate interventions is crucial for optimizing patient outcomes.

Treatment for a heart attack primarily focuses on restoring blood flow to the heart muscle, either through medications, angioplasty, or surgery. In contrast, cardiac arrest requires immediate CPR and defibrillation to restore the heart's normal rhythm. Followed by advanced life support measures to gauge underlying causes and stabilize the patient.

Treatment for a Heart Attack


Patients experiencing a heart attack may receive medications to relieve pain, such as nitroglycerin. Antiplatelet drugs like aspirin may also be administered to prevent further blood clot formation.

Thrombolytic Therapy

In some cases, thrombolytic therapy (clot-busting drugs) may be given to dissolve the blood clot causing the heart attack. This treatment is most effective when administered early and is typically considered when immediate angioplasty is not available.

Angioplasty and Stenting

Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), commonly known as angioplasty, is a procedure where a catheter with a balloon is used to open the blocked coronary artery. A stent may be placed to keep the artery open.

Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG)

In more complex cases, coronary artery bypass surgery may be necessary to create a new pathway for blood to flow around the blocked artery.

Treatment for Cardiac Arrest:

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Immediate and continuous chest compressions combined with rescue breaths to manually circulate blood and provide oxygen to vital organs.

Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

An AED is used to analyze the heart's rhythm and deliver an electric shock (defibrillation) if a shockable rhythm (e.g., ventricular fibrillation) is detected.

Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)

Healthcare providers administer advanced interventions, such as medications (epinephrine, amiodarone), intubation, and intravenous access, to stabilize the patient's condition and attempt to restore a normal heartbeat.


Medications like epinephrine and anti-arrhythmic may be used to help stabilize the heart's rhythm and improve blood flow.


Heart attacks and cardiac arrests differ in terms of their distinctive characteristics, causes, symptoms, and methods of treatment. To take action correctly in a crisis, both patients and healthcare providers need to be aware of these differences.

Heart attacks require a combination of medical history, physical examination, electrocardiograms, blood tests, and imaging techniques. Treatment options may include medications, thrombolytic therapy, angioplasty, and coronary artery bypass surgery.

While cardiac arrest requires immediate intervention through CPR, AED, and ACLS measures. Time is critical, and knowing the signs and symptoms can let you take the right action. Having access to well-equipped medical hospital can help improve the patient's condition by getting the right diagnoses.

Gleneagles Hospital Parel, Mumbai is renowned for prompt and effective treatment for cardiac arrest. By being aware of the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest, individuals can quickly identify the condition and seek immediate medical assistance at such well-equipped hospital, increasing the chances of survival and recovery.


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