You may have heard a heart attack described as a “plumbing problem” while Sudden Cardiac Arrest is described as an “electrical problem,” but what exactly does that mean? Let’s dive a little deeper into these terms that are sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably.  

A heart attack happens when blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked, usually by plaque in the coronary arteries. Some heart attacks come on suddenly, while others have warning signs days or weeks in advance. Early warning signs may include chest pain or pressure, among others.  

In the event of a heart attack, the victim will likely be conscious but may have chest pain and shortness of breath. In both instances of heart attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the first thing you should do is call 911. For a heart attack, as long as the person is conscious and breathing, you will not need to preform CPR.  

Although a heart attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest are two very different things, Sudden Cardiac Arrest can be a complication of a heart attack.  

Sudden Cardiac Arrest can strike at any time, any person, at any age. There are no warning signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.  

Sudden Cardiac Arrest happens when there is an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. The person may suddenly collapse, gasp or shake. It is imperative to call 911, start CPR and apply an AED as soon as one becomes available.  


How to Prevent: 


A Heart Attack:  

A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is restricted, usually by plaque build up. One way to prevent a heart attack is to prevent this plaque build up by living a healthy lifestyle. According to the American Heart Association you should stop smoking, choose good nutrition, reduce your intake of fat and cholesterol, be physically active every day, maintain a healthy weight, reduce stress and limit alcohol.  

Despite these preventative measures, some genetic factors can put you at greater risk for heart attack. Know your risk by talking to a physician about proactive screenings. 


Sudden Cardiac Arrest:  

The best way to prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest is through a routine EKG. As mentioned in our previous post, Are You At Risk? some individuals are born with abnormalities in the electrical system of their hearts that make them more likely to suffer SCA. Most of these individuals are unaware of this increased risk as it generally produces no symptoms until the moment of arrest. 

Also be aware of any medications that may increase the risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest and maintain a heart healthy lifestyle to prevent the development of congestive heart failure or ischemic heart disease. 


How to Treat: 

In both instances, call 911 immediately! The operator can also walk you through your next steps. 

Heart Attack:  

As long as the victim is awake and responsive, try to keep them calm and have them sit or lie down. If there is another person around, have them retrieve the closest AED, just in case. If the victim is not allergic to aspirin, have them chew and swallow a baby aspirin (if available).  


Sudden Cardiac Arrest: 

If the victim becomes unresponsive, begin CPR and use the AED as soon as possible. Beginning CPR quickly can triple the chance of survival. As soon as the AED arrives, power it on and follow the instructions. You shouldn’t worry about harming the victim by using the AED, if the AED does not detect an irregular heart rhythm, it will not shock! Continue to follow the instructions of the AED until EMS arrives. 

Please keep in mind, this blog is intended to educate. There is no substitute for CPR/AED/First Aid training certification.

If you are interested in being trained on effective CPR, AED usage and First Aid please click below. We are an Authorized American Red Cross Training Center. Sign up here. 

Download a free PDF poster of the difference between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack