What’s the difference between

Heart Attack & Cardiac Arrest?

Many people tend to use the terms ‘heart attack’ and ‘cardiac arrest’ interchangeably and assume they have the same meaning. There are actually many key differences between the two heart conditions!

The team of specialists here at First Aid Accident & Emergency have decided to set the record straight—we’ve put together a brief outline below explaining the differences between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest.

What is a heart attack?

A heart attack will occur when a blocked artery prevents oxygen from flowing to a certain section of the heart. The underlying cause is coronary heart disease—which many people don’t know they have until after they’ve suffered a heart attack.

Heart attacks come on very suddenly and there is a range of warning signs to look out for. Some of the most common warning signs include chest pain or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, dizziness, shoulder ache and jaw pain.

There are various tests which are used to determine whether someone has suffered a heart attack including electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests, chest x-ray and coronary angiogram.


What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest will occur when the heart suddenly stops beating. Cardiac arrest is extremely unpredictable and is caused by an electrical problem with the heart that causes it to beat at an unnatural rhythm. Once the heart stops beating, oxygen won’t be able to flow throughout the body—this will result in the patient becoming unconscious.

One of the more common causes of cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation—a type of heart arrhythmia where rapid electrical impulses cause the heart chambers to quiver unnaturally instead of pumping blood.

It’s recommended to contact 000 if a suspected cardiac arrest has occurred, followed by immediate CPR and the use of a defibrillator if there’s one available. Cardiac arrest can happen to individuals of all ages and health levels.

Key differences between heart attack & cardiac arrest:

The cause of a heart attack is a blocked artery, whereas the cause of a cardiac arrest is an electrical problem with the heart. When a person suffers a heart attack, they will still be conscious and breathing, but when a person suffers a cardiac arrest, they will stop breathing and will be unconscious.

Both will require you to contact 000 for medical assistance, but only cardiac arrest will require CPR and defibrillation. Cardiac arrest is more fatal than a heart attack. A heart attack can sometimes lead to cardiac arrest which will mean CPR and defibrillation is then needed.

Due to the unpredictability of cardiac arrest, we recommend that all individuals take part in CPR and first aid training. We also strongly urge you to consider purchasing an AED. It has been found that when a defibrillator is used during resuscitation, survival rates are significantly increased compared to when only using CPR.

Book yourself in for one of our CPR courses today via our online booking system or browse our extensive range of defibrillators and defibrillator packs on our online shop

Browse our defibrillator range on our online shop

Fun and Interactive First Aid Courses:

Click a course to view more information! Or you can contact us.

First Aid Incl. CPR

first aid courses gold coast

CPR Course

Insructor performing CPR on resuscitation dummy

Low Voltage Rescue

Low Voltage Rescue Course