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Difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest
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Difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest

A heart attack is caused by a choked blood supply to the heart whereas in cardiac arrest the heart stops beating suddenly

Heart attack and cardiac arrest are often mistaken as the same but are different life-threatening cardiac conditions

Sangeeta Choudhary, 47, a homemaker from Guwahati, tells Happiest Health, “In August 2015, my father Nabin C Bora, a retired professor, passed away at the age of 80. He woke up at about 3 am after complaining of breathlessness and sweating. He eventually collapsed. He had a hearty meal before he went to bed that fateful night. He followed a healthy and active lifestyle mostly throughout his life. He was neither diabetic nor did he have cholesterol. He ate mostly home-cooked meals, avoided red meat, took long walks and religiously did yoga, especially breathing exercises.”She says that when her father collapsed, she thought that he had a heart attack, but the doctor informed her later that it was a sudden cardiac arrest.

“Five years ago, before his death, he felt more consistently fatigued while walking or climbing stairs than usual. I couldn’t take the prolonged tiredness just as a side effect of old age. I took him to the doctor and he ran a few tests, through which I found out that he has a heart condition called angina. The doctor advised taking proper care of his health in terms of medication, food and exercise. I believe that a timely diagnosis added a few more years to his life. I got to spend some more precious time with him.”

Angina is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. It’s not usually life-threatening, but a warning sign that one could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke. Stable angina attacks, which are common, have a trigger (such as stress or exercise) and stop within a few minutes of resting. With treatment and healthy lifestyle changes, it’s possible to control angina and reduce the risk of these more serious problems.

Is heart attack same as cardiac arrest?

“They are two different entities,” says Dr Pradeep Kumar D, senior consultant, interventional cardiology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore. “A heart attack is an event of myocardial infarction wherein a person’s heart muscles start to get damaged and blood supply is suddenly cut off. The person will show symptoms of chest pain, breathlessness and unconsciousness. Sometimes, very elderly people or diabetic people may not feel the chest pain or even if they feel it, they sit on it thinking it to be acidity. On the other hand, as the name cardiac arrest suggests, the heart stops functioning. Almost in all deaths, the final event will be cardiac arrest. In cardiac terms, there are a lot of conditions that cause the stoppage of the heart including a weak heart; it could also be because of a previous heart attack, muscle diseases, rhythm disturbances and simple causes like high and low potassium levels.”

Dr Vanita Arora, senior consultant and cardio physiologist, interventional cardiology, Indraprastha Apollo, Delhi, explains the differences between the two conditions. “During the construction of a house, there are two important systems in place for its smooth functioning – water and electricity. They are individually important, independent entities that are interconnected. Here, the house means a heart. As water is supplied to the house, blood is supplied to the heart. If there is a blockage in the pipes (the arteries), it’s the plumber’s or doctor’s job to clear the blockage. The sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart’s electrical network (the pulse) is gone; it is an electrical short circuit in the heart.”

Dr Arora says that ninety-five per cent of people who get heart attacks survive because of the high awareness surrounding it; people take medications on time and they try to reach the hospital without delay for angioplasty, surgery etc. The symptoms also take time to manifest and thus, corrective actions can be taken promptly. “On the contrary, 95 per cent of people who get cardiac arrest do not survive because the heart starts to beat at an abnormal rate (300-400 beats per minute); that brings down the blood pressure to zero. This in turn cuts off the blood supply to the brain and everything starts shutting down,” says Dr Arora.


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Who is at risk of cardiac arrest?

According to Dr Arora, there is an increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest if the heart is functioning below 35 per cent. “This can be identified in a common medical check-up through an echocardiogram. Additionally, people with dilated cardiac myopathy (a condition where the muscle gets weaker because of some infection or disease), also have a risk. Apart from these, genetic factors is a significant cause too. These factors are easily visible in the ECG reports. In such cases, the doctor traces the family history. If there are any young deaths (below 35) which happened during sleep or if someone collapsed suddenly in the middle of something like working out, it could indicate a sudden cardiac arrest,” she says.

Does cardiac arrest cause instant death?

Dr Kumar says, “In case of cardiac arrest, it takes only three minutes to develop brain damage once the heart stops functioning. Hence, immediate relief through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or defibrillators (devices that send an electric pulse or shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat) should be provided. This is the reason all public places have these devices; in case the person falls unconscious without any response, he/she should be addressed on priority and the emergency measures should be activated.”

Dr Arora further adds, “Even the event requires immediate treatment to revive the person like CPR or electrical shock, the availability and awareness for both are very limited among people. Hence, very rarely do people survive.”

Cardiac arrest and youth

Dr Arora addresses the query of why cardiac arrests are becoming common among young and seemingly healthy adults. “Genetic factors could be one of the reasons. Apart from them, artificial protein supplements, steroids or injections they take to maintain their bodies or not to get tired while working out, are not cardiac friendly. Their consumption silently leads to a sudden cardiac arrest in youth,” she says.

Dr Kumar says that if someone with high-risk factors like diabetes, obesity, smoking habit, high cholesterol, a history of family heart conditions or those not leading an active life develop chest pain then they should immediately get an ECG test and consult a doctor.

“Many times, ECG reports indicate a heart attack, but people don’t verify them with the doctor. But an unattended heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest. Apart from the ECG, ECHO and stress tests like treadmill tests are simple, effective and non-invasive screening tools,” he adds.

How to keep your heart healthy

Dr Arora says that heart health should be prioritised as that can help keep these conditions at bay. Those diagnosed with diabetes and hypertension should always consult their doctor and should never stop or modify their prescribed course of medication on their own as it could affect their heart health.

She also says that managing stress is important; take some ‘me-time’ every day, to relax and destress yourself.

“Smoking should be avoided completely and drinking alcohol should be limited. Eating home-cooked food and eliminating junk food is the best. Lastly, having a daily walking routine of about four kilometres is highly beneficial,” she says.

How to know if your heart is okay?

Dr Arora emphasises that young adults once they cross the age of 30 should be up to date with their heart check-ups like ECHO and ECG. “It will help one detect any condition and act accordingly,” she says.

In addition to the above tips, Dr Kumar also points out that cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure should be checked regularly from childhood, to prevent the risk for future.

5 ways to keep your heart healthy

  • Go for a short daily walk (preferably four kilometres).
  • Eat healthy food. Choose home-cooked food instead of junk and processed food items.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Try to stay relaxed and avoid unwarranted stress.
  • Go for regular health check-ups and maintain healthy levels of blood sugar and cholesterol.
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2 Responses

  1. Very informative. Such articles bring more knowledge about our health and we can take care of ourselves and our loved ones in a better way.

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