Heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke are all cardiovascular conditions that have the potential to be fatal within minutes. Yet despite the three conditions being spoken of interchangeably, each one is distinct in its own right. Cardiovascular diseases and their related events affect millions of people around the world every single year.

If you have ever been a victim of heart attack, cardiac arrest, or stroke, you are likely familiar with their differences. Otherwise, you may have no clue. This post is intended for people who know very little about cardiovascular disease. Reading through to the end will give you a basic understanding of the differences between the three conditions.

Heart Attack

We have a tendency to call just about any heart emergency a heart attack. That is not necessarily a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it helps to understand just what a heart attack is in a medical sense. Suffering a heart attack means suffering from a very distinct event that could prove fatal.

So what is a heart attack? Let us begin by understanding how blood flows to and through the heart. The heart is a muscle with four chambers and a number of veins and arteries. Its two coronary arteries are responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. Cut off the blood flow in one of those arteries and you have big problems. That is what happens during a heart attack.

A heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries is in some way blocked. The lack of blood flow then causes heart tissue to begin dying. If blood flow is not restored, the lack of oxygen will ultimately lead to complete muscle death. As such, a heart attack often leads to cardiac arrest even though the two conditions are completely separate.

Heart Attack Symptoms

If there is any good news about heart attack, it is the fact that it generally occurs with recognisable symptoms. If symptoms are understood early enough, a person suffering from a heart attack can get professional help. Those symptoms include:

• sudden chest pain or discomfort that may feel like pressure or heaviness in the chest
• pain that spreads to the neck, jaw, back, or either arm
• shortness of breath, light-headedness, and a sick feeling
• sudden feelings of anxiety or panic.

Cardiac Arrest

Next up is cardiac arrest. This occurs when the heart muscle actually stops beating. It can occur as a result of heart attack or be a completely separate event altogether. In either case, cardiac arrest is fatal within minutes. That is why it is so important to get the heart started again during a cardiac arrest event.

A heart that is not beating is also not pumping blood throughout the body. Without an adequate blood supply, the body's tissues do not get enough oxygen. It doesn't take long for the lack of blood and oxygen to bring on death.

Just like there is at least some good news about heart attack symptoms, there is good news for cardiac arrest victims as well. It is found in a device known as an automated external defibrillator (AED). Thanks to some of the best defibrillation tech we've seen in recent years, AED's can save lives even without medical training.

An AED is a compact defibrillator that can be used by anyone capable of following simple instructions. It is a defibrillator that can jump-start a stopped heart even as a victim awaits professional medical attention. And because AED's work so well, they are starting to show up in public spaces throughout the UK and many other parts of the world.


Stroke is a cardiovascular condition characterised by a sudden loss of blood supply to the brain. In almost every case, stroke is the direct result of major artery blockage. These types of strokes are called ischemic strokes. Another, less common, type of stroke is called a haemorrhagic stroke. This occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

Both kinds of strokes are considered serious medical emergencies. Both can be fatal in a short amount of time, for obvious reasons. Even when a stroke is not fatal, it can lead to permanent loss of function in one or both sides of the body.

The most fascinating aspect of stroke is that it can occur without any pain. Stroke symptoms include sudden numbness in the face or extremities, confusion, difficulty speaking, trouble seeing from one or both eyes, dizziness, and headache.

Unlike heart attack and cardiac arrest, there is little that first aid can do for stroke victims. A person suffering from a stroke must receive emergency medical care at a hospital as soon as possible. But like heart attack and cardiac arrest, time is of the essence. Fatalities and permanent disability are reduced commensurate with how quickly a victim receives treatment.

Now you know the key differences between a heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke. Hopefully you will never experience any of them personally. Take care of yourself if you want to avoid them. Eat right, get plenty of exercise and sleep, and see your doctor regularly.

Author's Bio: 

Alex is a professional writer and digital marketing expert.