What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?
  • Updated on: July 9, 2024

When we speak of cardiac arrest and heart attack there is often a huge confusion between the two. Although both of these ailments differ in their causes, symptoms, and treatments the mechanisms are totally different. Through this blog, we will try to gain clarity regarding the distinction between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. 

We will also learn about the factors that set them apart so that by gaining insights into these differences we can understand the urgency of each condition and take steps for prevention and prompt response. 

So let us begin and take a deep dive into the major aspects of cardiac arrest versus heart attack to safeguard heart health in an effective manner.

Myocardial Infarction vs Cardiac arrest

 Myocardial infarction and Cardiac Arrest are two conditions that have their unique implications. Now let us find out the disparities between the two and gain clarity for better comprehension and response

Understanding Myocardial Infarction (heart attack):

Myocardial infarction which is commonly known as a heart attack takes place in an individual when there is a blockage in the coronary arteries as a result of which the blood flow is restricted to the heart muscle. This blockage of blood supply leads to the damaging of heart issues and results in triggering of the symptoms such as nausea shortness of breath and chest pain

Exploring cardiac arrest :

Talking about cardiac arrest which basically occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating and holds the blood circulation throughout the body. This abrupt stoppage of the function of the heart can emanate from several causes such as trauma or electrolyte imbalance. Cardiac arrest cardiac arrest can lead to unconsciousness and death in cases where prompt intervention is not given

Distinguishing between symptoms and signs:

The signs of cardiac arrest and myocardial infarction differ significantly. On one hand symptoms of heart attack include discomfort in the chest, shoulder pain, dizziness, or arm pain and on the other, the signs of cardiac arrest come across in the form of loss of consciousness, absence of pulse, and sudden cessation of breathing

Is Cardiac Arrest a Heart Attack?

No, a cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. A heart attack or myocardial infarction happens when the coronary artery is blocked and there is a significant reduction in the blood flow to the heart. In contrast, cardiac arrest usually happens when the heart stops beating altogether and there is a loss of consciousness. 

Cardiac arrest requires immediate CPR and Defibrillation. Although both are critical heart emergencies they differ in their causes, symptoms and frequency. So, knowing the vital difference between them is imperative for a quick response and appropriate action in each scenario.

Read more: What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

What Are the Warning Signs for Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attacks?

There are always warning signs when a person is about to experience cardiac arrest as well as a heart attack. This includes high levels of cholesterol, lack of physical activities, shortness of breath and so on and so forth. Let us read more about it.

Identifying heart attack symptoms 

Symptoms of a heart attack include chest discomfort,  lightheadedness, and pain in the arms, back,  neck, and jaw.  It can also be a classic sign such as nausea, uneasiness in breathing, and lightheadedness. These can vary in intensity and time duration.

Recognizing signs of an impending cardiac arrest

The classic warning signs of cardiac arrest include no pulse, stoppage of breathing, and a sudden loss of consciousness. The symptoms usually manifest all of a sudden and require immediate action

Preceding indications for heart attacks

Right before a heart attack takes place an individual usually experiences palpitations, shortness of breath, general fatigue, and inability to exert the body. One needs to be vigilant and seek immediate medical help to potentially prevent a heart attack.

Risk factors for Cardiac Arrest

The cardiac arrest which is also known as a silent heart attack occurs without the obvious symptoms and it becomes very concerning and uncertain at the same time. The risk factors for cardiac arrest include a history of heart disease, previous heart attacks in the family, habits of regular smoking and  drinking alcohol, high blood pressure diabetes, and obesity 

How Do Medical Treatments Differ for Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attacks?

Cardiac Arrest and its Treatment: Let us look at the line of treatment in case of a cardiac arrest

Immediate Intervention: 

Cardiac arrest needs quick recognition and immediate action because here the primary goal is to restore heart function and circulation

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): 

Now, this involves CPR which consists of chest compressions to manually pump blood to the vital organs of the body as well as artificial ventilation to maintain oxygenation


Here the use of an automatic external Defibrillator becomes compulsory which is an AED and it is incorporated to deliver an electric shock and restore the normal rhythm of the heart

Advanced Life Support: 

Many paramedics and emergency medical personnel provide advanced interventions which include intravenous medications and advanced airway management and also additional attempts at Defibrillation 

Heart Attack Treatment: Let us look at the line of treatment in case of heart attack

Reperfusion Therapy: 

With the help of reperfusion therapy, we can restore the blood flow to the affected part of the heart


Patients here receive medications such as aspirin, beta-blockers antiplatelet agents, thrombolytics, and also nitroglycerine to stabilize the condition and prevent any further complications

Percutaneous Coronary Intervention (PCI): 

This procedure is commonly known as angioplasty with stent placement and it involves opening blocked arteries using a catheter with a balloon and finally inserting a stent to keep the artery open.

Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG):

 In some cases, especially if multiple arteries are blocked, coronary artery bypass surgery becomes necessary so that blood flow around blocked arteries can be rerouted.

Read more: What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?


In summary, when someone goes through a cardiac arrest it requires immediate life-saving interventions like a  CPR or a defibrillation whereas the treatment for a heart attack focuses on restoring blood flow to the heart with the help of a  reperfusion therapy, some immediate medications, and, if necessary, invasive procedures like PCI or CABG. An early recognition in cases of cardiac arrest versus heart attack and swift action are crucial for both conditions to improve outcomes and minimize complications.