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How is Cardiac Arrest Different Than a Heart Attack?

If you follow football, you already know that Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after tackling Bengals receiver Tee Higgins. 

Released from “a medical center” in Buffalo 9 days later, his recovery is astonishing.  There has been a lot said about Super Bowl 2023, but the  moment I found so satisfying was Damar Hamlin grinning on field. Watching him on the field being honored alongside the medical staff was a very touching moment. The fact that he survived is amazing.  I felt gratitude of the “tell your people you love them, because you never know” variety.

Many people are confused about is the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack (also called a myocardial infarction). Below or some very clear definitions  from science backed, reputable sources that help to clarify.


What is a cardiac arrest?

“Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops pumping. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Cardiac arrests are caused by certain types of arrhythmias that prevent the heart from pumping blood. ..9 out of 10 people who have a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die — often within minutes” the NHLBI goes on to say. This is why, very famously now, Damar Hamlin was reportedly told by his doctors (Dr. Timothy Pritts and Dr. William Knight) “…yes, Damar, you won”.

What are the causes of cardiac arrest?

“The heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This malfunction causes an abnormal heart rhythm such as ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation”, states the American Heart Association (AHA). There are many reasons this happens.


What is a heart attack? 

A heart attack “occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is severely reduced or blocked.” The Mayo Clinic says “the blockage is usually due to a buildup of fat, cholesterol and other substances in the heart (coronary) arteries…a plaque can rupture and form a clot that blocks blood flow. A lack of blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle”.

The NHLBI tells us that  “a heart attack, happens when the flow of blood that brings oxygen to a part of your heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. Your heart can’t get enough oxygen. If blood flow is not restored quickly, the heart muscle will begin to die”.

Heart attack and heart disease are what people are more familiar with. Symptoms like chest and arm pain, dizziness, heartburn, nausea, etc. are things we know to look fore. Most Americans have had at least one relative on a modified diet, or a medication, to avoid or recover, from a heart attack.

Statistics from the CDC are that 805,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack every year. This is much higher than Americans that suffer cardiac arrest out of hospital (356,000). Whereas 90% of cardiac arrests are fatal, the chances of surviving a heart attack are much better.




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