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Heart Attack vs Cardiac Arrest vs Stroke: Symptoms, Causes

Heart attack vs cardiac arrest vs stroke
Learn the differences between a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke below.

Heart attack, stroke, and cardiac arrest are terms that most people are acquainted with which refer to severe medical conditions (emergencies) that need immediate medical treatment. 

People may be unaware of what is truly happening in their bodies throughout these three occurrences.

  • During a heart attack, the blood supply to the heart muscles is obstructed, causing the cardiac muscle to stop pumping blood (circulation problem).
  • During a cardiac arrest, the conduction system of the heart fails, and the heart develops asystole (no heartbeat is generated).
  • A stroke is the obstructed blood supply to the brain vessels causing symptoms such as the inability to move a body part, unconsciousness, and inability to speak clearly.

What is a heart attack?

Heart attack is, at its core, an issue with blood circulation, and it occurs when blood flow in a person's heart is significantly restricted or severely blocked.

  • Heart attacks range in severity from quite mild to extremely catastrophic or serious.
  • It occurs when an artery becomes blocked, preventing oxygen-rich blood from reaching a region of the heart that needs it.
  • The section of the heart that is regularly supplied by a blocked artery may begin to die if the blocked artery is not opened immediately.

The longer a person goes without treatment, the more serious the consequences become. Symptoms might sometimes appear gradually and continue for many hours, days, or even weeks before a heart attack occurs. 

Symptoms of a heart attack in men

  • The majority of heart attacks generally involve painful pressure, squeezing, or discomfort in the middle of the chest that may linger for many minutes or even hours. This soreness might come and go at any time throughout the day.
  • Upper-body soreness or discomfort in one or both arms and pain in the back, neck, jaw, or stomach are all common symptoms of this condition.
  • Long-term shortness of breath along with or without chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack.

Apart from the symptoms mentioned above, there can be a cold sweat, nausea, and light-headedness.

Symptoms of a heart attack in women

Apart from these, women can experience the same symptoms as those in men.


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease.
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What is a cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is an electrical disorder that occurs when a person's heart stops beating abruptly and unexpectedly, preventing blood and oxygen from reaching essential organs. It is caused by a malfunctioning electrical system.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), in contrast to a heart attack, is always life-threatening. Cardiac arrest occurs abruptly and without warning, and it is generally fatal. It is characterized by a sudden loss of cardiac function. It might be brought on by an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

  • Ventricular fibrillation is a frequent arrhythmia that occurs in the context of cardiac arrest and is a condition in which the heart's lower chambers (ventricles) suddenly begin to beat chaotically and fail to pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs as they should. Within seconds, the individual loses consciousness and stops breathing.
  • SCA may be caused by various factors, including ventricular fibrillation, a violent shock to the chest, electrocution, drowning, drug addiction, cardiac attacks, cardiomyopathy, or hypothermia. Ventricular fibrillation is the most common cause of SCA.

If defibrillation (which shocks the heart and restores a normal heart rhythm) is done within minutes, it may help reverse cardiac arrest. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is the most effective way to reverse cardiac arrest. If proper steps are not taken immediately, death can occur.

Symptoms of a cardiac arrest

The beginning of a cardiac arrest might occur with little or no prior notice. Signs and symptoms are rapid and life-threatening.

  • Sudden loss of consciousness/responsiveness
  • Absence of breathing and no pulse
  • Heart failure occurs when the heart stops beating and oxygen is depleted from the blood supply to the organs of the body

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What is a stroke?

An attack on the brain, also known as a stroke, occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a clogged or burst of a blood artery. A stroke may occur at any moment and can occur to anybody at any age.

  • Because the brain cells are starved of oxygen when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, the brain cells begin to die.
  • When the brain cells die after a stroke, few functions such as memory and muscular activity that are regulated by that part of the brain are totally lost.

Appropriate treatment in a timely manner is essential to avoid brain injury and subsequent problems. Stroke is a serious and fatal condition.

There are many forms of stroke, but the three types of stroke include:

  1. Hemorrhagic stroke: A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a damaged blood artery ruptures and bleeds. Uncontrolled hypertension is the most prevalent cause of a hemorrhagic stroke.
  2. Ischemic stroke: An ischemic stroke develops when the blood flow to the brain is impeded or clots in a vessel. It is responsible for about 87 percent of all strokes. Atherosclerosis, or fatty deposits lining the artery walls, is the primary cause of an ischemic stroke.
  3. Transient ischemic attack (TIA): TIA occurs when the blood supply to the brain is temporarily blocked. It is caused by a significant transient clot. It does not cause much harm and is often overlooked, and the harms are not long-lasting. TIA may be a precursor to a full-blown stroke.

Symptoms of a stroke

To discuss symptoms of a stroke, the acronym FAST is used.

  • F (face): If someone's face starts to droop or they complain of numbness, one can encourage them to smile. If a person's smile is asymmetrical or lopsided, they may be suffering from a stroke.
  • A (arm): Ask the person to lift both arms if their arm is weak or numb. If one arm is inclined downward, then it may be a sign of a stroke.
  • S (speech): If the speech is slurred or sounds strange, then also it is a sign.
  • T (time): If someone has any of the abovementioned symptoms, then the person should be taken to the hospital immediately.

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