So this is probably my biggest pet hate. The media, TV programs and numerous resources interchange these terms frequently – incorrectly assuming they mean the same thing, they do NOT!
The way I always describe the difference in this (and in fact when I teach other areas) is to think of the heart like your central heating system at home. There are 2 main components:
- The plumbing – all the pipes and valves that the water flows through
- The electrics – the electrical system that keeps the plumbing turned on and flowing
A Heart Attack occurs when one or more of the main arteries surrounding the heart becomes blocked, and blood can no longer flow – using the above analogy, one of the plumbing pipes in the house is blocked and can no longer move water around, however other pipes are still flowing appropriately. The electrical system here is generally working sufficiently, however faults may occur. The patient is usually conscious and breathing, although with significant chest pain.
The take home here is:
A Heart Attack is a plumbing issue!
A Cardiac Arrest in simple terms is an electrical fault with the system, this can be due to no electricity at all – known as asystole or the electrics firing too fast in an abnormal way – ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. This is a life threatening emergency, the patient will be unresponsive and not breathing, immediate CPR with early defibrillation (if appropriate) is their best chance of survival.
To re iterate:
A Cardiac Arrest is an electrical issue!
Although these are two different things, they are not mutually exclusive:
- A patient having a heart attack is at significantly higher risk of a cardiac arrest
- A cardiac arrest can be the first symptom of a heart attack.
However a cardiac arrest is not always associated with a heart attack and can occur for many reasons; from electrolyte imbalance to underlying congenital abnormalities.
I hope this clarifies things
All the best