Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack

Heart-related incidents are often used interchangeably, but cardiac arrest and heart attacks are distinct medical emergencies with different causes, symptoms, and outcomes. It's crucial to grasp these differences to respond appropriately and seek timely medical attention.

Cardiac Arrest:

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, leading to a lack of blood flow to vital organs. This abrupt cessation can be caused by irregular heart rhythms (ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia) or other electrical malfunctions. Common signs include a sudden loss of consciousness, no pulse, and the absence of normal breathing. Immediate intervention with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a defibrillator is critical to restore the heart's normal rhythm.

Heart Attack:

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, results from a blocked coronary artery that hinders blood flow to a part of the heart muscle. This blockage often stems from a blood clot forming around a ruptured plaque in the artery. Symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea. Unlike cardiac arrest, the heart continues to beat during a heart attack. Prompt medical attention is vital to prevent further damage to the heart muscle.

Key Differences:

Heart Function:
Cardiac Arrest: Heart stops beating.
Heart Attack: Heart continues beating but with compromised blood flow.

Cardiac Arrest: Often triggered by arrhythmias.
Heart Attack: Caused by a blocked coronary artery.

Cardiac Arrest: Sudden loss of consciousness, no pulse, no normal breathing.
Heart Attack: Chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, nausea.

Immediate Response:
Cardiac Arrest: CPR and use of a defibrillator.
Heart Attack: Emergency medical assistance, potentially including medications or procedures.

Understanding these differences empowers individuals to respond effectively in emergency situations. Both conditions require urgent attention, and quick action can significantly improve outcomes.


American Heart Association. (2022). "Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack." 

Mayo Clinic. (2022). "Cardiac Arrest." 

American College of Cardiology. (2022). "Heart Attack."