Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Stroke: What Is The Difference?

A heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke are all serious health conditions, which if not addressed on time can be fatal.

Shubhangi Shah
Written by: Shubhangi ShahUpdated at: Sep 29, 2021 16:56 IST
Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest, Stroke: What Is The Difference?

An annual event, World Heart Day that is celebrated on September 29 is aimed at raising awareness around cardiovascular diseases, which account for millions of deaths worldwide. An initiative of the World Heart Federation, the day provides a platform for people to unite in the fight against cardiovascular diseases, which are the cause of about 18.6 million premature deaths worldwide. On this occasion, Onlymyhealth is also raising awareness around the issues of heart health. You might have come across the terms -- heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke. All these are serious health issues, which if not attended on time, can even lead to mortality.

Although millions of people suffer from these every year, and many also lose their lives, there is confusion over what these terms actually mean. Not only this, they are often used interchangeably. To clear the air around this confusion, Onlymyhealth spoke to Dr DK Jhamb, who is the Director and HOD, Cardiology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram.

What Is A Heart Attack?

Many people suffer a heart attack every year

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

A person suffers from a heart attack when the flow of blood to his/her heart gets blocked. This blockage, which often results from a buildup of fat, cholesterol, or other substances, forms a plaque in the arteries. Myocardial infarction is another name for heart attack. Although it can be fatal, treatment has improved over the years that can reduce heart-attack-induced deaths. 

Dr Jhamb has enlisted the following symptoms for heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Discomfort in other regions of the upper body
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Cold 
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness

What Is The Treatment For Heart Attack?

Each passing minute after suffering from a heart attack is crucial. This is because each minute, heart tissue deteriorates or dies. Blood flow to the heart should be restored immediately to prevent heart damage. Gladly, a heart attack can be managed with medications. Some such medicines include:

  • Aspirin: This might be given immediately to reduce blood clotting so that the blood flow can be maintained through the narrow arteries.
  • Thrombolytics: Also known as clot busters, thrombolytics dissolve the blood clots that might be blocking the blood flow. Just like aspirin, this drug should be given immediately to maintain blood flow.
  • Antiplatelet agents: To prevent the formation of new blood clots, or to prevent the existing clots from getting bigger, the doctor often gives drugs known as platelet aggregation inhibitors.
  • Other blood-thinning medications: You might be given other medications too, such as heparin, which makes the blood less sticky and reduces its chances of clotting. 
  • Pain relievers: Pain medication, such as morphine, is often given in case of a heart attack.
  • Nitroglycerin: Although this drug is used to treat chest pain, it can also be given to improve the flow of blood to the heart by widening the blood vessels.
  • Beta-blockers: To relax the heart muscles, slow down the heartbeat, and decrease blood pressure, beta-blockers are given. This makes the heart’s job easier. It also limits the damage to heart muscles and prevents future heart attacks.
  • ACE inhibitors: These are given to reduce blood pressure and thus the pressure on the heart.
  • Statins: This is given to control blood cholesterol levels. 

What Is Cardiac Arrest?

Arrest means to stop or come to a halt. Hence, cardiac arrest happens when your heart stops beating. Here are some of its symptoms:

  • Pain in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Heart palpitations
  • No pulse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • The person might collapse

What Is The Treatment For Cardiac Arrest?

Here are the treatment options for cardiac arrest:

  • CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation, commonly known as CPR, is an emergency treatment for cardiac arrest. 
  • Defibrillation: In this, a dose of electric current is given to the heart.

These treatments are done to get your heart to beat again. Once your heartbeat is revived, the doctor starts other treatments to prevent the risk of another cardiac arrest. The doctor might:

  • Prescribe you medicines to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • You might undergo surgery to repair damaged blood vessels or heart valves. An operation might be done to remove blockages from the arteries.
  • Exercising regularly is another way to improve cardiovascular health.
  • Your cholesterol level, and thus the risk of cardiac arrest, can be lowered by making dietary changes. 

What Is A Stroke?

In case of a stroke, you need urgent medical care

(Photo Credit: Freepik)

A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and thus bleeds. It can also occur if the blood supply to the brain gets blocked. In both scenarios, the oxygen supply to the brain drops. Due to the lack of oxygen in the brain, cells and tissue get damaged and start dying within minutes a person suffers from a stroke. Here are its symptoms:

  • Paralysis
  • The person might feel numbness in the face, arm, and leg, and it is generally in one-half of the body.
  • Trouble speaking
  • Confusion
  • Blurred, blackened, or double vision
  • Trouble walking
  • Loss of balance
  • Dizziness
  • Sudden and severe headache that just won’t go away.

What Is The Treatment For A Stroke?

Prompt treatment is crucial in case of stroke. “Time lost is brain lost,” says the American Heart Association. The treatment for a stroke depends on its type, says Dr Jhamb. He enlisted the following treatment options:

Ischemic stroke and TIA

These kinds of strokes result from a blood clot or some other kind of blockages. Here are the treatment options for them:

  • Antiplatelet and anticoagulants: These drugs are generally given within 24 to 48 hours after stroke symptoms first appear.
  • Clot-breaking drugs: Thrombolytic drugs are given to dissolve the blood clot(s) and maintain the blood flow to the brain.
  • Mechanical thrombectomy: In this procedure, a catheter is inserted into a large blood vessel inside the head. After that, a device is used to pull the clot out of the brain. For this surgery to be successful, it is generally performed 6 to 24 hours after the stroke begins.
  • Stents: These are inserted if the doctor finds out where the artery has weakened. Firstly, the narrowed artery is inflated. It is then supported with stents.
  • Surgery: If other treatment options fail, you might have to undergo surgery, in which the doctor removed the blood clot or plaques, which were causing the blockage.

Hemorrhagic stroke

If the stroke results from bleeding or a leak inside the brain, it is called a hemorrhagic stroke. Here are the treatment options:

  • Medication: Unlike the treatment for ischemic stroke, in the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, the treatment goal is to make your blood clot to reduce bleeding. If you take blood thinners, you might be given a medication to counteract that. You will also be prescribed medicines to lower blood pressure, and that in your brain to prevent seizures and blood vessel constriction.
  • Coiling: In this, the doctor inserts a coil device in the area where the artery has weakened. This is done to prevent the blood flow to that area, thus reducing bleeding.
  • Clamping: This is done if the doctor detects an aneurysm, which hasn’t either started bleeding or the bleeding has stopped. An aneurysm is when an artery gets enlarged due to weakness in the arterial walls. In such a case, a clamp is inserted at the base of the aneurysm, to prevent additional bleeding.
  • Surgery: A surgery will be needed in case an aneurysm ruptures, and causes bleeding. Similarly, after a large stroke, a craniotomy might be needed.

All these three -- heart attack, cardiac arrest, and stroke are serious health conditions, which can turn fatal. To prevent these, you must take care of your cardiovascular health. In fact, the World Heart Federation says that 80% of premature deaths due to cardiovascular diseases can be prevented by controlling the risk factors, which include quitting tobacco, eating right, and exercising regularly. 

(With inputs from Dr DK Jhamb,  Director and HOD, Cardiology, Paras Hospitals, Gurugram)

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