The Difference Between Cardiac Arrest, Heart Attack and Stroke

According to the American College of Cardiology, cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the leading cause of disease in the U.S. Nearly 841,000 people died from CVD in 2016 alone.

CVD is generally a condition involving blocked or narrowed blood vessels that could lead to dangerous and even fatal occurrences. Cardiovascular disease can refer to numerous conditions, including heart attacks, heart failure and strokes.

While there are multiple risk factors that could lead to cardiovascular disease, you can take steps to decrease your chances. Learning the differences between cardiac arrest, heart attack and stroke, as well as what increases and lowers your chances of experiencing CVD, can help you take action to save your life.

The Symptoms Of A Heart Attack

When one or more coronary arteries have become clogged, preventing the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, a section of the heart muscle is damaged. This is called a myocardial infarction, or heart attack.

Heart attacks can be fatal, but with emergency treatment, many people survive them. While symptoms can vary, there are several common signs of a heart attack:

  • Feeling uncomfortable achiness, pressure, pain, squeezing or tightness in your chest or arm. The pain or sensation might spread to the back, jaw or neck.
  • Abdominal pain, heartburn, indigestion and nausea.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Breaking into a cold sweat.
  • Unusual fatigue or sudden dizziness and lightheadedness.

Calling 911 immediately when these symptoms occur can greatly increase survival chances.


What Is Cardiac Arrest?

While a heart attack can cause cardiac arrest, they are not one and the same. In fact, most heart attacks do not lead to cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart has an electrical malfunction causing arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat. Because of this, the heart is unable to pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. A person who suffers cardiac arrest will lose consciousness within seconds and die within minutes without immediate treatment.

When someone goes into cardiac arrest, the best course of action, according to the American Heart Association, is:

  • Call 911 immediately.
  • Use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is available.
  • Begin CPR continuously until emergency services arrive.



A stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked or ruptures, causing brain cells to die. Stroke warning signs include:

  • Numbness or weakness, often on one side of the body.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others.
  • Blurred or loss of vision.
  • Sudden dizziness and headache.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately.

Inside The ICU
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Risk Factors For Cardiovascular Disease

Many behaviors, conditions and circumstances can contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Tobacco use
  • Poor diet
  • Alcohol use
  • Family history

In addition, your risk could be slightly higher if you are over 55; a man or a post-menopausal woman; or of African or Asian ancestry.

Fortunately, many of these risk factors can be decreased or managed to diminish your chances of experiencing cardiac arrest, a heart attack or a stroke. Even if you are unable to lessen certain risks, being aware and speaking to your primary health provider about those risks could ultimately save your life.