Plumbing vs. Electricity: The Difference Between a Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Most people don’t know the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest.  I recently met Angela Creason, a sudden cardiac arrest survivor, who helped explain the difference to me. AngeApple with heart_iStock_000009213845XLargela told me that your heart was like your house – in your house you have your electrical system and your plumbing system.

  • When you have a plumbing problem in your house, it’s usually because you have a pipe that is clogged or blocked. The same is true when you have a heart attack – one or more of your coronary arteries (pipes) is blocked.  Over time, a buildup of various substances, including cholesterol, will narrow the artery and create the blockage.  You are still conscious during a heart attack.  You can feel a variety of symptoms ranging from  being tired, having a cold sweat, being dizzy, to having pressure in tightness in your chest and arms all the way up to your jaw.  These symptoms can vary from person to person, but if you feel any (or a combination) of these stop and call 911 immediately.
  • When you have an electrical problem in your house, wires short circuit and then BOOM! No electricity throughout the house. The same is true for your heart.  The cause of sudden cardiac arrest is usually an abnormality in your heart rhythm (arrhythmia).  This arrhythmia can result in your heart beating too fast or too slow or in an irregular fashion.  Often these changes in rhythm are momentary and harmless but if your heart suddenly goes from one rhythm to another and can’t get back on track it can lead to sudden cardiac arrest – your heart just completely stops.   The scary thing about sudden cardiac arrest is that there are no symptoms.  During sudden cardiac arrest you collapse and are no longer conscious. No pulse or breath.  If you are an onlooker, first call 911, then preform CPR.  If you don’t know CPR, remember this – do hands-only CPR by pushing hard on the person’s chest to the rhythm of the song “Stayin’ Alive.”  Also, if a portable defibrillator is available, use it.

Now you know a little bit more about your heart.  If you would like more information about Heart Attack Awareness check out this month’s Wellness Toolkit.

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