Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attacks: What’s the Difference?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attacks: What’s the Difference?

Once you’ve been exposed to it, you rarely go more than a day or two without hearing about it. Follow just a handful of pages on social media who are working to raise awareness, and you’ll see a new heartbreaking story, frequently. A teenager has suffered sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). As you read through the latest gut-wrenching story of a young death, or the heroic story of survival, you also see comments like, “how does a teenager have a heart attack?” Although teenagers can have a heart attack, it is extremely rare. Many believe that SCA and heart attacks are the same thing, but they are not. And knowing and understanding the difference between the two could help you save a life.  



A Plumbing Problem vs. an Electrical Problem

A heart attack can often times be referred to as a “plumbing problem,” while SCA is referred to as an “electrical problem.” A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart, similar to a clogged pipe. If the blocked artery isn’t re-opened, part of the heart begins to die. Symptoms of a heart attack can begin and progress slowly and last for hours, days, or even weeks before the heart attack! Sudden cardiac arrest, however, occurs suddenly and often without any warning signs. SCA is triggered by an electrical malfunction of the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat, known as arrhythmia. As the typical blood pumping process is disrupted, the heart can no longer pump blood to the brain, lungs, and other organs. Death can occur in minutes if the person does not receive treatment.

Signs & Symptoms

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack and SCA can help you understand how to better help an individual who is suffering.


The most common symptoms of a heart attack include:

·     Pain or discomfort in the chest

·     Feeling lightheaded, nauseous, or vomiting

·     Jaw, neck, or back pain

·     Discomfort or pain in an arm or shoulder

·     Shortness of breath

Women call also experience:

·     Stomach or abdominal pain

·     Weakness, and/or fatigue

·     Swelling in the ankles and/or lower legs


Signs and symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest include:

·     Sudden loss of consciousness

·     Breathing is absent or abnormal

·     There is no heartbeat detected

·     The person is not awake


How Can I Help?

In either case, call 911 immediately! If someone is showing the signs or symptoms of a heart attack, have the person rest or lie down until help arrives. A person suffering from a heart attack could go into cardiac arrest so continue to monitor the individual and be ready to start CPR and use an AED if needed. For sudden cardiac arrest, begin CPR and use an AED until medics arrive. Always remember, anyone can use an AED. Just turn the power on and the AED will help walk you through all the steps you will need to take to help save a life. Also, an AED will never shock someone if they do not need it.


What Can I Do To Be Prepared?      

Sign up for CPR and AED training! This month we’re offering CPRand AED training to those living in the Milton, GA area. You can sign up on our website. The American Red Cross, and American Heart Association also offer classes year-round. If you’ve never taken a CPR/AED/First Aid course, please look into it. Just a small amount of time could help you become someone’s hero.


Wishing you a healthy heart full of love,

Kristin LeMoyne  



Helpful links:

How to Use an AED: Training for Every Age video:

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation website:

American Heart Association website: