Blog First Aid

Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack—The Signs and Symptoms

A person holding their chest due to pain
Written by Nancy

Cardiovascular diseases entail different conditions, such as abnormal heart rhythm, coronary heart diseases, heart attack, heart failure, or cardiac arrest. Unfortunately, they’re also the leading cause of death globally, claiming 17.9 million lives annually.

Furthermore, cardiovascular diseases are the number one cause of death in adults in Canada. But there is about a 6-minute window where if you start CPR and administer an electric shock to the heart in case of a heart attack or cardiac arrest, there is a chance of saving a person’s life.

What Does A Heart Attack Look Like?

A heart attack occurs when a semi-blocked or completely blocked artery obstructs the pathway of blood carrying oxygen to a specific section of the heart. If a particular part of the heart doesn’t receive any oxygen for a prolonged period, those heart muscles start to die.

For most people, the heart won’t stop beating during a heart attack, and the symptom may occur for weeks before an actual attack, or it may be sudden and intense. Although symptoms vary from person to person, some common ones are shortness of breath, chest tightness, fatigue, discomfort, or pain in the upper body, especially the neck, arms, chest, shoulders, back, or even the jaw.

You may also notice excessive sweating in a person while they have a heart attack.

What A Cardiac Arrest Looks Like

Cardiac arrests are one of the most unforgiving heart conditions, and they can occur at any point in life to pretty much anyone. Data suggests that it’s more common in men than women. Children too can have cardiac arrests, most commonly children aged between 10-19 years, but it could occur in infants as well.

Sudden cardiac arrests are tricky because their exact reason is unclear, so it’s hard to prevent them. They can occur in perfectly normal, healthy individuals due to a brief but dangerous heart rhythm. But sometimes, cardiac arrests occur due to other underlying conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and so on.

The only symptoms you’d have to work with our loss of responsiveness and lack of normal breathing—they could be gasping for air or not breathing at all.

What Should You Do Immediately?

In any of the cases above, the first thing you always need to do is call an ambulance. But until an ambulance arrives, you should start taking care of the situation.

There’s never enough time with cardiac arrests, so you have to begin CPR immediately until the ambulance, and the medics arrive and switch to AED.

In heart attack cases, you could give the patient aspirin to chew to prevent blood from clotting, but only if you’re absolutely sure that the person isn’t allergic to it. If the patient is unconscious, you need to begin CPR.

With heart diseases being so common, it’s best to be prepared.

Sign up for Emergency First Aid Training and CPR courses to know precisely how to act in an emergency. The Metro Safety Training School in British Columbia is a great place to learn. They also offer workplace safety courses for workers across the region.

Get in touch with them today!

About the author


I’m Nancy and no, I didn’t always look like I do in that picture on the right. My foray into health and fitness began as a brace-faced, 16 year-old who was too afraid to wear a two-piece at the beach because I felt my body paled in comparison to my much more toned friends.

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