Cardiac arrest compared to heart attack

Many people mistakenly assume cardiac arrest and heart attack are the same thing. However, sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. In fact, there are distinguishable differences between the two that are best explained by detailing what is actually happening when someone is suffering from either one.

What happens during a heart attack?

During a coronary attack, or heart attack, blockage occurs in one or more of the heart's arteries. That blockage subsequently prevents the heart from receiving enough oxygen-rich blood.

According to the American Heart Association's Web site www.heart.org, the buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances create plaque in the arteries, making blood flow slower.

"When a plaque in a heart artery breaks, a blood clot forms around the plaque," states the site. "This blood clot can block the artery and shut off blood flow to the heart muscle. When the heart muscle is starved for oxygen and nutrients, it is called ischemia."

When damage to the heart muscle happens from ischemia, that is when a heart attack can occur.

Research indicates many people with symptoms of a heart attack actually delay seeking treatment for more than two hours.

In a 2010 study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers found the average delay in arriving at the hospital after the start of a heart attack was roughly two and a half hours. Eleven percent of the more than 100,000 cases examined in the study waited more than 12 hours from the start of symptoms before seeking treatment. Those symptoms can include chest discomfort, shortness of breath and discomfort in other areas of the body that do no improve after five minutes.

What happens during cardiac arrest?

When a person is experiencing cardiac arrest, their heart's electrical system is malfunctioning and suddenly becomes irregular. The heart begins to beat very fast while the ventricles may flutter or quiver. Blood is not being delivered to the body during cardiac arrest, and a genuine fear is that blood flow to the brain will be reduced so drastically a person may lose consciousness.

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