Heart attack or cardiac arrest? How to spot, and what to do

Posted on January 9, 2023

Syracuse, NY – You’ve heard the terms “heart attack” and “cardiac arrest,” but do you really know what they mean? Each describes a life-threatening cardiac event but understanding the difference could help you save someone’s life.

“A heart attack is a plumbing issue — an artery that brings blood to the heart is blocked,” says Nicholas Massa, MD, CPC, vice president medical affairs, clinical services at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “Victims are usually conscious, and while they need medical attention quickly, an electrical charge from an automated external defibrillator (AED) may not be needed because often, the heart is beating and the victim is breathing.”

 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), signs that someone is having a heart attack include chest pain or discomfort; feeling weak, light-headed, or faint; pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back; pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders; and shortness of breath. Other symptoms of a heart attack could include unusual or unexplained tiredness and nausea or vomiting. Women are more likely to have these other symptoms. Anyone experiencing one or more of these symptoms should seek medical attention immediately.

 

“Cardiac arrest, also known as sudden cardiac arrest, is an electrical issue that occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions,” says Massa. “Without warning, the victim collapses and stops breathing.” The heart is electrically active but is unable to beat in a regular rhythm, and therefore unable to pump blood to the brain or other organs. Medical attention is needed immediately, or the victim will die.

 

According to the American Heart Association, more than 350,000 Americans outside of hospitals die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, meaning they were stricken at home or while out in public. 

 

“Cardiac arrest can sometimes be reversed if CPR is immediately performed, and an AED is used within minutes to shock the heart into stopping its chaotic rhythm,” says Massa. “You never know where, or when, it will occur, which is why it is vital to have as many people as possible trained in CPR and have AEDs available in places where people gather and also participate in athletic activities.”

Many AEDs issue spoken commands to coach even an untrained layperson in their use, and in the proper administration of CPR. If the device detects a shockable rhythm, it will provide voice instruction on how to deliver an electrical charge. If it doesn’t detect a shockable rhythm, it will not allow a shock to be administered. In the absence of any cardiac electrical activity, CPR offers the only chance for survival until medical professionals arrive.

 

Massa urges everyone to take CPR training where they’ll also become familiar with using an AED. To find a CPR class near you, visit RedCross.org, or the American Heart Association website at Heart.org.

# # #

Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is a nonprofit health plan with 1.5 million upstate New York members. The company's mission is to help people live healthier and more secure lives through access to high-quality, affordable health care. Its products and services include cost-saving prescription drug discounts, wellness tracking tools and access to telemedicine. With more than 4,000 employees, the company is committed to attracting and retaining a diverse workforce to foster innovation and better serve its members. It also encourages employees to engage in their communities by providing paid volunteer time off as one of many benefits. To learn more, visit ExcellusBCBS.com.

Other Member News

Oswego Health Golf Tournament
April 9, 2024

Annual Golf Tournament Proceeds to Directly Impact Local Patient Care

As a nonprofit community healthcare system, Oswego Health counts on additional support from generous donors to help deliver outstanding medical care throughout Central New York.

April 9, 2024

Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo to Host Earth Day Festivities

The Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo will host the Novelis Party for the Planet in celebration of Earth Day.

Kyle Arnold PMHNP
April 9, 2024

Oswego Health Welcomes Kyle Arnold, PMHNP to The Center for Mental Health & Wellness for Youth

Arnold is now part of the 100+ physicians and advanced practice providers employed by Oswego Health.

Matthew Guiles Headshot
April 9, 2024

Solvay Bank Announces New Branch Manager for North Syracuse Location

Fox will oversee day-to-day operations, focusing on providing exceptional customer service and working to expand relationships.

Oswego Industries Casino Night
April 8, 2024

Oswego Industries Casino Night

Enjoy a night out Saturday, April 13 at the River Vista Event Center in Fulton with friends.

Oneida Indian Nation’s Wáhta’ Maple Farm Increases its Maple Syrup Production by 35% in its Second Season; Now For Sale at Nation Venues
April 4, 2024

Oneida Indian Nation’s Wáhta’ Maple Farm Increases its Maple Syrup Production by 35% in its Second Season; Now For Sale at Nation Venues

In only its second sugaring season, Wáhta’ Maple Farm has increased the amount of its maple syrup production by 35% and has plans for continued growth.

Manufacturing Summit – Operation Oswego County
April 4, 2024

Manufacturing Summit – Operation Oswego County

This innovative event aims to explore programs tailored to elevate the current and future manufacturing business ecosystem in Oswego County.

PFT Lab Reopens at Oswego Health
April 4, 2024

Pulmonary Function Testing Lab Reopens at Oswego Health

PFTs are noninvasive tests that show how well the lungs are working.

Matthew Guiles Headshot
April 4, 2024

Solvay Bank Welcomes New Branch Manager for State Tower Location

Guiles joined Solvay Bank in 2019 as a Banking Solutions Representative.