February 24th, 2020

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Yet many people aren’t aware of the difference between two common heart problems—heart attack and sudden cardiac death. They’re not the same. Knowing their unique signs can help save a life.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is a circulation problem. It occurs most often when plaque blocks blood flow to a section of the heart. Oxygen-rich blood is what makes the heart pump. If a section of the heart doesn’t receive that blood due to a blockage, it will begin to die. That’s why it’s so important to get blocked arteries opened quickly. The longer they’re closed, the more damage the heart will suffer.

Heart attack symptoms are different for men and women. Men most often will experience the classic sign of chest pain, which may spread to the neck, jaw or back. While some women may also experience chest pain during a heart attack, they are more likely to feel other symptoms, including jaw pain, shortness of breath, or nausea and vomiting. Tiredness, sudden dizziness and a cold sweat are other heart attack signs to watch in both men and women.

If you see someone experiencing a heart attack, call 9-1-1, provide the person with four chewable aspirin tablets (aspirin 81 mg) and remain with the person until Emergency Medical Services (EMS) providers arrive. If the person loses consciousness, start CPR immediately until an EMS crew arrives. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is nearby, use it.

Grand View Health now includes a 24/7 cardiac catheterization lab designed to open blocked arteries quickly.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. That means the heart malfunctions and stops beating without warning. When the heart stops pumping, so does blood flow to other vital organs, including your lungs and your brain.

People suffering sudden cardiac arrest will lose consciousness within seconds. They also won’t have a pulse. Other sudden cardiac arrest signs include loss of breathing or shortness of breath, fainting and overall weakness. Sometimes, sudden cardiac arrest can occur after a heart attack.

If you see someone collapse from sudden cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and begin CPR immediately until an EMS crew arrives. The American Heart Association recommends hands-only CPR, asking people to perform chest compressions to the beat of the classic Bee Gees song “Stayin’ Alive.” This technique may double or triple a person’s chance of survival.

Learn more about the David M. Flowers, MD, Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Grand View Health.