Restarting a Heart: The Difference Between a Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack

The words heart attack and cardiac arrest are used interchangeably; however, they are very DIFFERENT.

In honour of Restart a Heart Day today, we are breaking down the differences between the two.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage or narrowing of the coronary artery that impedes or totally cuts off the blood flow to the heart. Think of this like a blocked pipe, preventing circulation which leads to lack of oxygen in the body.

Symptoms of a heart attack may be immediate and intense. More often, though, symptoms start slowly and can persist for longer periods of time such a hours, days or even weeks.

Classic symptoms of a heart attack are...

Chest Pain




Difficulty Breathing

A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest.

What is a cardiac arrest?

Whereas a heart attack is a blockage to the flow of blood to the heart, Cardiac Arrest is an electrical malfunction or sudden change in the circulatory system that causes the heart to abruptly stop beating.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning.

How to recognise a cardiac arrest...



Not Breathing

💔 A person in cardiac arrest will collapse and stop breathing normally and should receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately.

〰️ Cardiac arrest results for a number of reasons and your heart stops. The blood stops flowing through your veins and most importantly your brain stops receiving oxygen.⁣

〰️ Cardiac arrest can be a result of a heart attack, which is actually a heart condition and not as many would think a cardiac arrest (sudden death). ⁣

〰️ Cardiac arrest can result from drowning, drug overdose, massive trauma such as a car crash or a number of different medical conditions.⁣

〰️ Cardiac arrest does not discriminate, it can happen to a 2-year old drowning victim, a healthy and fit prospective 23-year old athlete on a sports field, a hard working 50-year old mum or a 75-year old teacher enjoying his retirement years.

It is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).

With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs.

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

These two distinct heart conditions are linked. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack, or during recovery. Heart attacks increase the risk for sudden cardiac arrest. Most heart attacks do not lead to sudden cardiac arrest. But when sudden cardiac arrest occurs, heart attack is a common cause. Other heart conditions may also disrupt the heart’s rhythm and lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

The Restart a Heart team has made this wonderful, easy-to-reference info graphic!

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