In a conversation with one of my good old friends, I got to know that a man from our college has died recently. I asked him, “How did he die?” to which he replied, “I think it was a heart attack. I heard his heart stopped beating suddenly.” This perplexed me for a minute. “If his heart stopped functioning then it must be cardiac arrest, my friend.” This sounded not right for him as he questioned, “Huh!? What is that? A fancy name for heart attack?” As I thought it right, he didn’t have much knowledge about these two different phenomenon. I thought I should explain the differences to him, “Oh no! I’ll explain.”

People generally use heart attack as a term for a death caused by the malfunctioning of the heart, but that’s not the case. If you hear somebody dying right on the spot because his heart stopped beating, it is clearly a case of cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is a sudden ceasing to the functioning of the heart. It is an instant loss of blood flow resulting in the malfunctioning of the heart. When your heart abruptly stops pumping the blood around your body, not providing enough blood and oxygen to the lungs, brain, and other body organs, it causes spontaneous death to the person.

On the other hand, heart attack is the clotting of the blood in the coronary arteries of the heart. It prevents the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a particular section of the heart. A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood is blocked by an artery to reach the heart making that organ die, gradually, which is circulating the blood.

While more than a lakh people die due to cardiac arrest annually, it is caused by ventricular Fibrillation (VF). VF is an irregular beating of the heart by disordering the pumping of the blood, causing low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, or death by cardiac arrest.

“But are there any specific reason for this VF?”
“Of course there are.”

Ventricular Fibrillation or Cardiac arrest is caused by coronary heart disease or heart attack, however heart attack is never caused due to cardiac arrest. Heart attack is when the blood clot builds up in the blood vessel, cutting off the supply of the blood to the heart muscle of that organ. Heart attack is an immediate discomfort in the chest or the upper part of the body, triggering breathlessness, cold sweat or nausea. Its symptoms starts slowly in weeks, days, or hours unlike cardiac arrest which happens rapidly without any signs.

The blocked artery can be diagnosed either through injecting a drug into the veins to dissolve the blood clot or through an operational procedure. Depending on the intensity of the heart attack, a person can be treated with either angioplasty or bypass-open heart surgery.
Even though cardiac arrest is a fatal disease, the person can be saved if he is treated with chest compression or mouth-to-mouth respiration within a few minutes.

“So you mean to say, one can still be saved if the heart stops functioning?”
“Yes, but not necessarily. It is a rare chance when he is saved in this. But you got the difference right?”
“Oh yes, my friend. So, he must have died of cardiac arrest.”