World Heart Day: Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest: How are they different?

Two of the most common conditions that are reported commonly include Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack. While most of the people use both the terms interchangeably, it must be noted that both are starkly different conditions.

Photo Credit : PTI,

By Dr Vikranth Veeranna

The human heart is one of the most hardworking muscle groups in the human body. The fist-sized organ beats over 1,15,000 times pumping over 2,000 gallons of blood in a day. Significant lifestyle changes with increased stress and rise in lifestyle diseases such as diabetes and hypertension have resulted in a considerably higher number of cases of heart problems among the masses. 

Two of the most common conditions that are reported commonly include Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack. While most of the people use both the terms interchangeably, it must be noted that both are starkly different conditions.

Understanding the Difference

Heart Attack is one of the most common heart conditions which affect approximately 10 million people in the country every year. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked abruptly, due to build-up of fat and cholesterol which forms plaque in the coronary arteries (blood vessels that supply blood to the heart). This interrupted blood flow results in damaging or destroying part of the heart muscle.

Cardiac Arrest is a sudden, unexpected loss of heart function. It is the result of electrical disturbances (rhythm disturbances) in the heart that disrupts the pumping action, resulting in stopping the blood supply to the rest of the body. In India, approximately 1 million cases of Sudden Cardiac Arrest are reported every year. Cardiac arrest results in death if it is not treated immediately (within minutes).

Heart Attack is, therefore, a blood circulation problem whereas Cardiac Arrest is an electrical problem. However, a heart attack can, in certain cases, result in a sudden cardiac arrest.

Underlying Cause and Symptoms

A heart attack occurs due to the blockage of one or more coronary arteries. Over a period of time, coronary arteries narrow due to the build-up of plaque. During a heart attack, these plaques tend to rupture and spill cholesterol into the bloodstream. A blood clot may form at the site of the rupture, and if large enough, it can completely block the flow of blood through the coronary artery. Use of tobacco and illicit drugs can cause spasms of the coronary arteries which can result in tear of the coronary artery.

The common symptom of heart attack is a pain, tightness, pressure in your chest or arms that can spread to your neck, jaw or back. Nausea, shortness of breath, cold sweat, fatigue and light headedness are other symptoms associated with the condition.

Cardiac arrest is due to the abnormality in the heart rhythm which shows a problem with the heart’s electrical system. Unlike other muscles of the body which rely on nerve connections, the heart has its own electrical stimulators – specialised cells known as the conduction system of the heart. Irregularities in rhythm such as asystole / sudden cessation of electrical activities or ventricular tachycardia and fibrillation (extremely fast heart rate) can result in a sudden stop in the heart function.


Regular preventive health check-up can help keep a track on blood sugar levels, blood pressure level, lipid profiles, etc. Changing sedentary lifestyle habits to an active one with healthy eating choices and habits, regular exercise, stress management, reduced alcohol consumption and quit smoking can considerably reduce chances of developing heart diseases. If suspected of any symptoms leading to heart attack, arrange for immediate medical intervention. If your

family member or friend is susceptible to sudden cardiac arrest, it is important to be trained in CPR and other first-aid methods. Being trained will not only help your loved one but also your community.

About the Author - 

The author is a Cardiologist at BR Life SSNMC Hospital.

Tags assigned to this article:
world heart day heart cardiac arrest heart attack


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