Do you know the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

There is a common misconception that cardiac arrests and heart attacks are both the same. Whilst both of them involve the heart, they both have very different symptoms and can possibly have two very different outcomes for a patient.

When call handlers ring 999, the words cardiac arrest and heart attacks are often used interchangeably. However, it’s important to know the difference because both are emergencies and time is critical.


What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is where the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body, resulting in unconsciousness and the patient stopping breathing or the patients breathing looking abnormal.


What are the symptoms of a cardiac arrest?

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Not breathing normally
  • Unresponsive


Next steps

If you suspect that someone is having a cardiac arrest, call 999 and start immediate CPR – if treatment is started early, cardiac arrests can be reversible.

You should ask bystanders if they are able to find a defibrillator – these can often be found in public places such as schools, offices, transport stations and shopping centres. Heartsafe have put together a handy list of registered defibrillators in the UK:


What is a heart attack?

A heart attack, also known as a myocardial infarction or MI is where the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

  • Chest pain – a sensation of pressure, tightness or squeezing in the centre of your chest
  • Pain in other parts of your body, particularly from your chest to your arms and throat
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Feelings of anxiety or impending doom
  • Coughing or wheezing


Next steps

If you suspect someone is having a heart attack call 999. Whilst waiting for emergency services to arrive, it may help to chew a 300MG tablet of aspirin, as long as the patient isn’t allergic.  Aspirin helps to thin your blood and improve blood flow to your heart.

Every minute counts when someone is experiencing cardiac problems – act fast and help save a life.