The Difference Between Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack

With the passing of Michael Jackson recently there has been a lot of commentary on what the difference is between cardiac arrest and a heart attack, if anything. The word on the street these days is whether they are the same thing with merely a different name? Why do they refer to it as cardiac arrest in place of a heart attack?
To the emergency aid provider who may be performing CPR on a patient they appear to be the same. As they try desperately to save the patients life the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack are interchangeable. Often times even the television and newspapers tend to mistakenly mix them up.
There is in fact a difference in the two and as a first responder or an emergency aid provider it is important that you realize this, although as long as CPR is started immediately upon the patient at that point in time it doesn’t really matter.
Medically speaking the term heart attack usually signifies some sort of damage to the heart muscles from a lack of blood flow. Generally, this flow stops is a result of a blood clot which may have formed in the arteries leading to the heart. Once the flow of blood has stopped because of the blocked artery the heart muscle itself quickly begins to immediately die. This causes considerable chest pain as well as the associated symptoms that are generally linked to a heart attack.
Cardiac arrest on the other hand occurs when for some unknown reason the heart no longer is able to pump blood. Since blood is no longer being pumped through the body the patient’s blood pressure falls leaving the muscles and organs starved for blood. Their heart will likely get extremely weak or in some cases it will begin to pump at an unsafe rate preventing it from any longer filling up with blood. This action causes the blood pressure to fall even more.
One has to be able to recognize when a heart attack is occurring in order to summons help quickly and prevent cardiac arrest. You should never hesitate to call 911 for an ambulance at any time that chest pains are experienced. If someone happens to collapses near you and stops breathing it is likely that they are victims of cardiac arrest and you should start CPR immediately.

By Joseph Parish
Copyright @ 2009 Joseph Parish

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