1. ITV Report

Heart attack or cardiac arrest? What's the difference?

More life-saving defibrillators are to be installed in towns and villages across Cumbria.

Members of the charity organisation, The Rotary, have helped to raise over £65,000.

It will mean an increase in the number of defibrillators installed in public places for anyone to use in an emergency.

Defibrillators are used when someone is having a cardiac arrest, but what is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

Coronary heart disease is the UK's single biggest killer Credit: PA

What is cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest happens when your heart stops pumping blood around the body.

If you have a cardiac arrest, you lose consciousness almost at once.

There are also no other signs of life such as breathing or movement.

The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is a life threatening, abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF).

Ventricular fibrillation occurs when the electrical activity of the heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops pumping and quivers or 'fibrillates' instead.

It can be caused by a number of things:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart valve disease
  • Acute Myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle)
  • Heart conduction disorders that make you more likely to experience abnormal heart rhythms, such as Long QT Syndrome
  • there is a lack of oxygen in your body - for example, if you are choking
  • you are electrocuted
  • you have used recreational drugs, such as cocaine or methadrone
  • you lose a large amount of blood
Defibrillators are used to help restart someones heart if they are having cardiac arrest Credit: PA

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

Lack of blood to the heart can seriously damage the heart muscle.

A heart attack is known medically as a myocardial infarction or MI.

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of heart attacks. CHD is a condition in which coronary arteries (the major blood vessels that supply blood to the heart) get clogged up with deposits of cholesterol.

These deposits are called plaques.

Before a heart attack, one of the plaques bursts, causing a blood clot to develop at the site of the rupture. The clot may then block the supply of blood running through the coronary artery, triggering a heart attack.

The British Heart Foundation have more information on their website Credit: PA

So, what's the difference?

  • Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease.
  • If you have a heart attack, it does not always lead to a cardiac arrest.
  • A cardiac arrest does not always happen because you have a heart condition.

For more information on heart attacks and cardiac arrests you can visit the British Heart Foundation or NHS website.