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Michaela Gagne: Sudden Cardiac Arrest Vs. Heart Attack: Is There A Difference?

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Don’t do it! Don’t confuse Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and a heart attack…it drives me crazy!! These two often get confused, but be assured, they are extremely different. Let’s break it down…

Let’s think of a heart attack as a problem with the plumbing. A heart attack is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel, and it can happen as a result of multiple reasons (or combinations of reasons) including poor nutrition, lack of exercise, and family genetics. This blockage, made up of plaque from cholesterol and fatty materials, prevents blood and oxygen flow. Once oxygen can not circulate, part of the heart muscle dies. There is a decent chance of survival from a heart attack depending on how fast you receive medical treatment. Heart attacks are more typical in older adults.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest, however, we’ll think of as a problem with the electricity. SCA occurs when there is an abnormal rhythm to how the heart is beating, and the heart just suddenly stops beating altogether. There is an extremely low chance of survival with a SCA, with some estimates saying less than 7%. In adults, SCA can occur for a variety of reasons, including damage done by a past heart attack. With young people, however, SCA is typically caused by an underlying, often genetic heart condition that may not have any symptoms or warning signs. It’s the stories of young athletes dropping dead unexpectedly and tragically on the field. It’s the stories of the little children who don’t wake up in the morning. And now it’s thought to be the stories of some of the sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) victims out there.

Understand how different a heart attack and an SCA are? When we hear the stories about a young person dropping dead from a heart attack, chances are this was misreported. We wouldn’t make the mistake of saying a woman died from breast cancer when she actually died from lung cancer. They are both heart issues, they are both cancers…but that doesn’t make them the same. They have different causes, manifestations, and effects. Join my crusade in educating people on these differences!

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Although you had an article on this, I thought it would be a good question to pass on to our expert, Dr. Lishan Aklog.

Here is his response:
Good question because there is a lot of confusion on this. For example Michael Jackson’s death was initially reported as a heart attack but it was not, it was a cardiac arrest.

Cardiac Arrest simply means that the heart stops beating normally. It can be caused by many initiating factors which ultimately lead to the heart stopping. Most commonly it results from a bad arrhythmia such as ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia which can occur spontaneously or be triggered by any serious heart or lung problem. In Michael Jackson’s case he almost certainly stopped breathing first and his heart stopped when the oxygen in his blood fell too low.

Heart attack usually refers to a very specific event. In medical terms it is called a myocardial infarction which simply means that some heart muscle (myocardium) dies (infarction). This almost always results from a blockage in the coronary artery which supplies blood to the heart. This is why it is sometimes referred to as a “coronary”. The blockage usually occurs from build up of plaques from cholesterol and other factors. If the artery remains blocked for long enough, the heart muscle dies permanently. If the artery can be reopened quickly using blood thinner and balloons/stents (angioplasty) then some of the heart muscle can be spared. A heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest if there is a large amount of damage and if the damaged muscle triggers a severe arrythmia.

September 25, 2009 - 5:58am
EmpowHER Guest

In the cases of heart attack and cardiac arrest, or any other heart shocks, time sets to be the most crucial factor for the survival of the patient. Sometimes, a little knowledge regarding the immediate actions to be taken may help your near and dear ones to survive in such incidents. The response a person takes to treat a victim decides the probability of his/her survival. Its been my personal experience fighting to survive against a heart attack. A quick reorganization of your bodily responses may increase your chances of survival. Because of having many heart problems, I was enrolled in a concierge Healthcare program from elite health. I was attacked by a severe heart attack in a party, luckily surrounded by many people. Some of the sudden changes in my body was recognized by me and anticipated immediately. I got a very severe chest pain which was almost unbearable for more than a minute. I got the suspicion that I might be having heart attack, and immediately called my physician on the phone, and explained my condition and its severity. Because of the immediate guidance, I was directed immediately to have an aspirin which I used to carry with me as prescribed by my physician. It was quite a frightening experience for me to face such a heart attack, but somehow I managed to be calm until 911 arrived. I was immediately taken to the nearest hospital, where already my physician were present and have got everything setup according to my medical history. And it was in some matter of seconds that everything was in control. A doctor, who already have the complete knowledge of the medical history and fitness of the person, extra ordinarily ameliorate your recovery process. Hence such a concierge level program from Elite health, helped me a save my life, like many others.

September 14, 2009 - 9:55pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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