Cardiac arrest vs heart attack


"No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra." Those were the words the late Carrie Fisher wanted to be remembered by. However, the reality is she suffered from fatal cardiac arrest – although initial reports stated a heart attack. We take a look at the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack. 

Cardiac arrest

What is it? Cardiac arrest occurs when your heart function suddenly and unexpectedly stops, you lose consciousness and stop breathing. Your heart either stops completely or the rhythm becomes erratic, which prevents it from pumping blood effectively.

Common causes of cardiac arrest include electric shock, drowning, a drug overdose, suffocation or even trauma.

Brain damage starts about four minutes after blood stops circulating through your body – death can happen as quickly as 10 minutes later.

Although different to a heart attack, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical abnormality, which can cause cardiac arrest. 

What are the symptoms? The symptoms of cardiac arrest are usually immediate and drastic:

• No pulse.
• You stop breathing.
• You suddenly collapse.
• You lose consciousness. 

What are the risk factors? Take care if you have a family history of coronary artery disease, you smoke, you have high blood pressure and cholesterol, you’re obese, have diabetes, drink too much alcohol or lead a sedentary lifestyle. 

Read: Men face greater risk of cardiac arrest: study

Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood and oxygen to the heart is blocked by a clot for example, causing damage to the heart muscle.

If the clot partially blocks the flow of blood in the arteries of the heart, it can cause a lack of oxygen to the heart muscle tissue called ischemia. If the clot completely stops the blood flow, then a heart attack develops.

If treatment is not started quickly, the affected area of heart muscle begins to die. 

What are the symptoms? Any of the following symptoms can be a sign of a heart attack and you should seek medical attention immediately:

• Pressure, tightness or pain in your chest or arms. This can spread to your neck, jaw or even back and can feel like indigestion.
• Shortness of breath.
• A cold sweat.
• Fatigue.
• Sudden dizziness.

What are the risk factors? Factors that put you at risk of having a heart attack include your age, whether you smoke, have high blood pressure and cholesterol, diabetes, a family history, stress, obesity or lead a sedentary lifestyle. 

Read: Anger and physical exertion may trigger heart attack

Prevention is better than cure

No matter your age, there are a number of ways to keep your heart healthy. The South African Heart and Stroke Foundation recommends you follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, be aware of the risks associated with smoking, drinking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes and stress. 

Read more:

45 percent of heart attacks are 'silent'

Heart disease affects women as much as men

The right hospital can make your heart last longer


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
The ANC's leadership race is heating up. Who do you think will be elected party president at Nasrec in December?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has got it in the bag
7% - 797 votes
I foresee a second term for Cyril Ramaphosa
83% - 9189 votes
Don’t discount a Zweli Mkhize win
10% - 1080 votes
Rand - Dollar
Rand - Pound
Rand - Euro
Rand - Aus dollar
Rand - Yen
Brent Crude
Top 40
All Share
Resource 10
Industrial 25
Financial 15
All JSE data delayed by at least 15 minutes Iress logo
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.