Heart Failure, Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest: Are they the same?

Cardiovascular deaths are the leading cause of death globally. It is a well-known fact that Indians are more affected by heart ailments than the western population in terms of early onset, rapid progression, and high mortality rate. When it comes to heart diseases, multiple terms are used: heart failure, cardiac arrest, and heart attack, and not many people are aware that these are not the same. Let’s understand the difference.

The Difference Between Cardiac Arrest, Heart Attack and Heart Failure
A heart attack is a circulation issue, whereas a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. A heart attack results when blood supply to a section of the heart is disrupted due to blockage in the artery that supplies blood to the heart. On the other hand, cardiac arrest happens when the heart stops beating completely due to an irregular heartbeat. Heart failure, also known as Congestive Heart Failure, is a chronic condition where your heart is not able to pump as much blood as required by your body.

Sign and Symptoms
Since the causes and mechanisms of a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and heart failure are different, they lead to different outcomes too. In a heart attack, a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a part of the heart, leading to its slow death. However, when a cardiac arrest happens, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs, so the person becomes unconscious, stops breathing, and has no pulse.

In contrast, symptoms of a heart attack start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Chest discomfort can be felt as an uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain that may come and go. Discomfort can also be felt in one or both arms, neck, back, jaw, or stomach. In addition to discomfort, shortness of breath, excessive coughing and wheezing, cold sweats, nausea, and lightheadedness can also signs of a heart attack.

Heart failure presents with shortness of breath with activity or at rest, swelling in legs, ankles, and feet, dry cough, or cough that produces white or pink blood-tinged mucus, fatigue and weakness, rapid or irregular heart beat, also known as palpitations, lack of appetite or nausea, and difficulty concentrating or reduced alertness.

How can we help?
Nevertheless, there is no argument that these three are medical emergencies, and one should be aware of what to do before emergency medical help arrives. Every minute matters. Emergency medical services should be called immediately. In the absence of pulse and breathing, a trained and certified person should perform CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) until medical help arrives. If untrained, provide hands-only CPR, which means uninterrupted chest compressions of 100 to 120 per minute.

Modifiable Risk Factors
It is essential to have knowledge of the common modifiable risk factors to reduce your risk of heart disease and manage your health. The four most common non-healthy behaviours: use of tobacco, physical inactivity, unhealthy diet, and consumption of excessive alcohol lead to key changes: raised blood pressure, being overweight or obese, raised blood glucose, and raised cholesterol, increasing one’s risk of cardiovascular diseases.

In addition, the following proactive measures can prove beneficial: avoiding second-hand smoke, treating and managing your blood pressure and diabetes, consuming a heart-healthy diet that is low in saturated and trans fat, salt, and added sugar, reaching and maintaining a healthy weight, getting at least 150 min of moderate-intensity physical activity a week, getting regular health checks. Even if you have a heart ailment, following these healthy habits can contribute to keeping your heart healthy. As a preventive step, one should undergo tests such as Creatinine, high-senstivity CRP, blood urea nitrogen, lipid profile, urea, and fasting glucose that help assess the heart health and estimate the risks of heart diseases.