Chest Pain: Differentiating Cardiac Arrest And Heart Attacks

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Experiencing intense chest pain is always alarming, given that it could signify something life-threatening. The two medical conditions that most people typically think of first are a heart attack or cardiac arrest, both of which affect the heart in different ways. For starters, a heart attack stems from a blockage, like when an artery blocks blood flow to the heart. In contrast, cardiac arrest is more of an electrical issue wherein rapid and irregular impulses take over the organ’s rhythm. Read on to learn more about the differences and severity of these conditions and what to do in an emergency.

Main Differences Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

Heart attack, or myocardial infarction in medical terms, can be a deadly condition caused by plaque clogging the arteries supplying blood to the heart. Without the necessary nutrients and oxygen, the heart muscles begin to die. Thus, it is vital to resume the blood flow as quickly as possible. Otherwise, a heart attack can result in permanent damage or death. The key factors that increase one’s risk of having a heart attack include:

  • Family history of heart conditions
  • Age and sex
  • Lifestyle choices such as smoking and lack of exercise
  • High cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, and other similar medical conditions

On the other hand, a cardiac arrest has the heart racing disorganisedly, and blood stops circulating near instantly. The person experiencing cardiac arrest passes out, stops breathing, and has no pulse. If their heart rhythm is not restored to normal as quickly as possible, the brain’s lack of oxygen and blood flow causes it to start dying. Statistically, the survival rate of those who experience cardiac arrest is less than 10%. An abnormal heart rhythm can occur due to the following:

  • Prescription drugs for certain health conditions
  • Genetic heart disorders
  • Illegal drug use
  • Heart attack or heart failure


Heart attack

Although heart attacks tend to be the cause behind intense chest pain, it is vital to remember that not all cases are presented in the conventional sense, given that some people—specifically women, diabetics, and older individuals—can also develop atypical symptoms like back pain or abdominal pain or even little to no symptoms whatsoever. Patients in this latter group are less likely to have chest pain and more so insomnia, fatigue, and shortness of breath. Other red flags include nausea and vomiting and back and shoulder pain.

Nonetheless, the most common symptoms of heart attack are:

  • Angina or chest pain
  • Troubled breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Sweating
  • Lightheadedness
  • Anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Insomnia

Cardiac arrest

In contrast, the symptoms of cardiac arrest generally start without warning, and the person may or may not feel any chest pain before going unconscious. The common symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting

What To Do In An Emergency

It is critical to act fast and call for medical emergency services if you or someone else is experiencing symptoms of either condition. Avoid attempting to drive yourself or others to the nearest hospice and wait for trained first responders to reach the scene so they can assess the situation and provide proper treatment on the way to the emergency room.

If a heart attack is suspected to be the cause and you or the other person with symptoms have a chest pain medication prescription, take it immediately. Otherwise, slowly chewing 325mg of aspirin may help prevent blood clots from forming and reduce damage.

The importance of acting quickly for cardiac arrest cannot be overstated, as the brain damage starts after five minutes of fainting. It can even be fatal if proper CPR is not administered within eight minutes. Thus, if you suspect that someone is experiencing cardiac arrest after going unconscious and see that they do not have a pulse, start CPR and ask anyone nearby to find an automated external defibrillator (AED) to aid in restarting the patient’s heart. Timely defibrillation can mean the difference between life and death when it comes to sudden fatal heart rhythms.


Cardiac arrest and heart attacks are severe health conditions that are easy to confuse with one another but nonetheless require immediate attention. Given that time is of the essence when they strike, it is crucial to act fast and call emergency services when symptoms arise.

If you or a loved one are at risk of these life-threatening conditions, consider reaching out to a virtual doctor in Singapore today via the MYCLNQ app that lets you consult a professional doctor anytime, anywhere, in just a few clicks. Contact us today to learn more details!

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