In the movies, you have probably seen someone acting out a heart attack drop to the ground, clutching his heart. But is that really what a heart attack looks like? Probably not. So what does a heart attack really look like? And how does it differ from cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart stops pumping blood. Without pumping, blood pressure drops and blood isn’t delivered to the body’s organs. SCA usually causes death if not resolved within a few minutes.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
There are many reasons for cardiac arrest: weakness of the heart muscle; the heart racing too quickly to fill with blood; or the development of an odd arrhythmia that causes quivering of the muscles. Several factors can lead to arrhythmias and other electrical disturbances in the heart. These include:
- Coronary artery disease (the most common risk factor)
- Extreme physical stress
- Structural changes in the heart
- Inherited conditions
If someone collapses in front of you and isn’t breathing, he or she may be in cardiac arrest. CPR should be performed immediately. Once the EMS medics arrive, SCA is treated by restoring the heartbeat using the help of a machine called a defibrillator. Because immediate treatment is so crucial, automated external defibrillators (AED’s) are special devices that the general public can use with no prior medical knowledge. You may see these in public areas like shopping malls, airports and sports stadiums.
The link between heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest is that a heart attack can lead to SCA. Since the heart has been stressed it is more likely to be weak or develop arrhythmias. Also, while SCA usually has no warning signs, some people may experience symptoms similar to those of a heart attack, including the following:
- Racing heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
Heart attack refers to damage of the heart muscle – most likely from an interruption or blockage in blood flow. Time is also important in the event of a heart attack, since the heart muscle is starving for oxygen and begins to die immediately following a blockage. As the muscle begins to die, it causes chest pain and other symptoms such as:
- Pain that radiates into the left arm
- Pain between the shoulder blades
- Pain in the jaw
- Difficulty breathing
Most heart attack symptoms come on slowly. Not all of these symptoms occur, and sometimes they can come and go during a heart attack. If you or someone you know is experiencing the above symptoms, don’t delay! Call 911 since every second counts. Emergency medical services (EMS) are trained to begin treatment even before the patient is transported to the hospital.
At St. Petersburg General Hospital, we specialize in treating chest pain, heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest. If you would like more information on heart health or cardiovascular conditions, please contact us by calling our Consult-A-Nurse® line at 727-341-4055 for a free doctor referral, or visit us online.