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Understanding Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest and Stroke

by Marybeth Morrell, RN, MSN, CCRN-K

There is a lot of ambiguity among the people regarding the various heart conditions and one of the most common mistakes that people often make when they refer to acute-heart related episodes is that they use the terms “heart attack”, “cardiac arrest” and “stroke” interchangeably.

Even though all the three are associated with heart, their reasons for occurrence are different. They have different symptoms and they affect the body differently as well.

Armed with proper knowledge about these three conditions and a proper understanding of their difference will help address these issues in a better way, and also alert timely to seek treatment before it gets too late. If you or someone around you experiences any of these symptoms, then you need to seek immediate medical attention.


difference between heart attack, stroke and cardiac arrest

Understanding What They Are

Heart Attack:

A heart attack is a circulation disorder.

A heart attack occurs when there are interruptions in the delicately synchronized system that supplies blood to the heart and pumps blood from the heart to other vital organs.

Sometimes, the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the heart muscle is blocked or slowed. If the blood flow is not restored quickly, the muscle begins to die due to a lack of oxygen. This causes a heart attack.


In a heart attack, the heart continues to beat.

Cardiac Arrest:

A cardiac arrest is an “electrical” disorder and is the leading cause of death in adults.

When the electrical activity of your heart experiences chaos, it causes the heart to start beating irregularly, and abruptly stop pumping blood through the body. This chaotic activity is frequently called an arrhythmia. The patient may feel a palpitation or fluttering feeling in his/her chest moments before his/her heart stops beating completely.

This is a cardiac arrest.


A stroke is a brain disorder. It is a medical emergency that happens when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted.

There are three types:

  • Ischemic stroke: When the artery transporting oxygen-rich blood to the brain experiences a blockage, it causes brain cells to die. This leads to an ischemic stroke.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): A “mini-stroke” can occur when the artery transporting blood to the brain stops doing so temporarily.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: When an artery ruptures inside the brain, it damages brain cells and leads to a hemorrhagic stroke.

Coronary artery disease is the primary cause of a heart attack and a brain stroke, and one of the primary causes of a cardiac arrest as well.

In coronary artery disease, the arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood to the heart and the brain are clogged due to plaque (fat deposits) buildup.

cardiovascular risk factors

Although traditional risk factors remain common among both sexes, diabetes, smoking, and psychosocial factors tend to be more strongly linked to cardiovascular events in women than in men.

Understanding Their Symptoms

heart attack

A heart attack and cardiac arrest sometimes have common symptoms.

However, the other accompanying symptoms, as well as how long the symptoms last, differentiate these conditions from each other.

The symptoms of a stroke are mostly neurological.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack:

The following symptoms of a heart attack. can appear early on and persist for days.[

  • Chest pain (angina): People usually characterize this as a heaviness or tightness in the middle of the chest. Some often confuse it with indigestion. It might stay for a few minutes, go away and then come back again.
  • Body aches: The sensation of chest pressure or an indigestion-like feeling might be accompanied by pain in the arms (especially the left arm), neck, back, abdomen and jaw.
  • Shortness of breath and wheezing
  • Cold sweats
  • Lightheadedness and dizziness
  • Increased anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Coughing

These symptoms aren’t relieved by medications, rest, or home remedies that typically resolve them under normal conditions.

So, if you feel like you have indigestion and you take something to treat it, the symptom will return because the problem is with your heart and not your digestive system. If the symptoms last longer than 15 minutes without relief, consult your medical provider or emergency services immediately.

In addition, these symptoms are likely to occur more when you exert yourself (running, jogging, exercising, swimming, etc.), though they can occur at rest also.

Symptoms of a Cardiac Arrest:

Sometimes, in the few minutes preceding a cardiac arrest, a person may experience symptoms similar to a heart attack:

  • Loss of consciousness/fainting
  • Blackout
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme palpitation or fluttering feeling in the chest.
  • Generalized weakness

However, in most cases and unlike a heart attack, a person who suffers a cardiac arrest will experience:

  • Symptoms of cardiac arrest that arose and dramatically worsened or accelerated within just a few minutes.
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Loss of breath
  • Loss of pulse
  • Sudden collapse

These appear suddenly and often result in instant death.[

If you have suffered a heart attack, then you are at a greater risk of cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of a Stroke:

  • Sudden mental confusion: You may have trouble understanding things and following conversations. You may find it hard to remember names, places, random facts and other things you used to be able to recall.
  • Disrupted speech: You may slur your speech.
  • Face, arm or leg paralysis: You may experience a numbness or paralysis on one side of your face or the entire face. You may experience paralysis, numbness or weakness in your legs and arms, especially on one side. If one side of your mouth droops when you smile, or one arm keeps falling down when you lift both of them up, you might be experiencing a stroke.
  • Inability to walk: You may experience a loss of body coordination and dizziness while trying to walk.
  • Blurred vision: Your vision may blur in one or both your eyes, or your eye may become runny. You might also start seeing double.
  • Headaches: A searing pain in the head might be accompanied by dizziness and vomiting.
  • Nausea or difficulty in swallowing.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA): About 1 in 3 people who have a transient ischemic attack will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year after the transient ischemic attack.


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  3. Stroke. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/stroke.
  4. Parvand M, Rayner-Hartley E, Sedlak T. Recent Developments in Sex-Related Differences in Presentation, Prognosis, and Management of Coronary Artery Disease. Canadian Journal of Cardiology. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29571423. Published April 2018.
  5. Jr DCG. Knowledge of Heart Attack Symptoms in a Population Survey in the United States. JAMA Internal Medicine. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamainternalmedicine/fullarticle/1729652. Published November 23, 1998.
  6. Passinho RS, Primo CC, Fioresi M. Signs, symptoms and complications of acute myocardial infarction. Journal of Nursing UFPE on line. https://periodicos.ufpe.br/revistas/revistaenfermagem/article/view/22664.
  7. Joseph ME. Sudden cardiac arrest. Egyptian Journal of Medical Human Genetics. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0019483214000078?via=ihub. Published 2014.
  8. Yoon SS, Heller RF, Levi C, Wiggers J, Fitzgerald PE. Archive of all online content. AHA / ASA Journals. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/str.32.8.1926. Published April 7, 2018.
  9. Lovett JK, Dennis MS, Sandercock PAG, Bamford J, Warlow CP, Rothwel PMl. Archive of all online content. AHA / ASA Journals. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/abs/10.1161/01.str.0000080935.01264.91. Published July 10, 2003.



Understanding Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest and Stroke was last modified: September 10th, 2018 by Top10HomeRemedies

19 thoughts on “Understanding Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest and Stroke”

    1. I have chronic pancreatitis and I’m having numbness in my hand and burning in my eyes, and my big toes are sore all the time too and alot of headaches too! My Dr doesn’t listen to me and I’m sure my sugar levels aren’t good because my heart beats so fast sometimes I can’t get my breath! What should I do??

  1. Thank you for the great explanation you have made. These are most misunderstood symptoms for witchcraft, political malice, ignorance.

  2. My father had stroke brain right side of the body one leg one hand and also can not talk from 2 years now can i have some thing that can realief with stroke back to normal thanks and let me know about it.

  3. Thank’s very usefull ! How we can give first aid on side before hospital care ? There is same care/treatment or different depends of attack causality ?

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