The Heart of the Matter
Knowing the difference between a Heart Attack,
Cardiac Arrest and Angina
When dealing with the matters of the heart, terms like Heart Attack
and Cardiac Arrest are often thrown around interchangeably. However,
when you come down to the semantics of these terms, you learn how
different they are from each other.
Heart Attack: Your heart has intricate plumbing, with different blood
vessels carrying blood to specific body parts. The coronary arteries,
which are branches of the aorta, are the main supply for oxygenated
blood to the heart. A blockage in these arteries would mean partial
or complete cut off in the blood supply, which may result in a Heart
Attack. Sometimes, the coronary arteries will have a brief, sudden
narrowing of the arterial wall, which is known as a coronary spasm.
During this spasm, there is a constriction of the oxygenated blood
supply to the heart; which if it lasts long, can lead to a Heart Attack.
The most common reason for coronary blockages are plaque buildup
– crystals of cholesterol that accumulate in the arteries, clogging
them up. Coronary spasms may occur irrespective of any evidence of
plaque buildup. Signs and symptoms of a Heart Attack include pain
in chest or abdomen, pain radiating in the arm or jaw, feeling of
tightness, heaviness or burning sensation in the chest, feeling light
headed or dizzy, sweating profusely, having difficulty breathing and
feeling nauseous or vomiting. Women may not necessarily have these
Cardiac Arrest: Your heart is also an electrical marvel. For your
heart to supply blood to the body, it must follow a rhythmic contraction-relaxation.
A Cardiac Arrest occurs when your heart cannot contract
properly, leading to a sudden stop in effective blood flow. The heart, in
trying to make up for the decreased blood flow, starts beating faster
which results in muscle fatigue and eventually the heart is unable
to pump at all. The causes of Cardiac Arrest are varied including
coronary artery blockages, pulmonary embolism, congestive heart
failure, overdose, drowning and severe physical stress.
Signs and symptoms of Cardiac Arrest include, unconsciousness, loss of
response and loss of palpable pulse. In some cases, Cardiac Arrest may
be preceded by fatigue, chest pain, vomiting, dizziness and blackouts.
Angina: Angina is chest pain due to decrease blood flow to the heart.
It is not a disease, rather a symptom of an underlying cause. It ranges
from discomfort to severe chest pain, that may radiate to the arms,
jaws and back. Sometimes, it may manifest as indigestion.
Unlike the portrayal often seen in movies or television, where every
instance of a Heart Attack is shown as a person in severe pain, clutching
their chest, a Heart Attack differs from person to person.