Heart disease is our biggest killer, and in Australia, about 54,000 people have a heart attack each year, of these about 10,000 will die – that’s close to one person every 53 minutes. Estimates suggest between 20,000 to 33,000 people die of cardiac arrest each year.
Both heart attacks and cardiac arrests are medical emergencies involving your heart that require immediate treatment, but they are not the same thing. The most common source of confusion is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest.
A heart attack occurs when a coronary artery becomes blocked, preventing blood flow to part of the heart muscle. During a heart attack, a person remains conscious and keeps breathing.
While a heart attack is a plumbing problem, a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Cardiac arrest happens when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, causing it to beat rapidly and chaotically — or to stop beating altogether. Without blood circulating to the brain, lungs, and other organs, the person gasps or stops breathing and becomes unresponsive within seconds.
Sometimes a heart attack can cause a cardiac arrest. This is because a person who is having a heart attack may develop a dangerous heart rhythm, which causes a cardiac arrest. A heart attack and a cardiac arrest are both emergency situations.