Heart attack vs. cardiac arrest. What’s the difference?

Published May 19, 2020


Heart attack vs. cardiac arrest

Heart attack (circulation)

Heart attacks happen when blood flow to the heart is blocked. 

Symptoms can start slowly over days/weeks or begin suddenly and include:

  • Chest pain
  • Jaw pain
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Trouble breathing
  • Back or jaw pain

Heart attack symptoms can be different with women:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Back pain
  • Extreme Fatigue

Cardiac arrest (electrical)

Cardiac arrest happens when the electrical system of the heart doesn’t work right and the heart stops beating correctly. Blood doesn’t flow to the brain, lungs and other organs.

This can happen suddenly, within minutes, and symptoms may include:

  • Collapse
  • Unconsciousness
  • Gasping for breath/no breath
  • No pulse

What to do?

  1. Call 911 for both right away, don’t delay!
  2. Starting CPR, using an AED or taking medication may be advised
  3. Stay with the patient until help arrives

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