Archives for October 2014

What Is a Cardiac Arrest?

difibrillattorI couldn’t let National Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) month go by without a mention. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. The awareness campaign wants to improve those odds.

Did the campaign work? Do you now know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?  Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards.

Plumbing vs. Electrical

A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked.  A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death).  Here are the main differences:

  1. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart.
  2. Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs.
  3. The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack.
  4. Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning.   Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heart attack vs cardiac arrestheartbeat.

For those that are more visual, check out the Infographic on the right provided by the American Heart Association.

How To Save a Life

What should you do if you think someone might be in cardiac arrest? The AHA recommends the following:

  1. Yell for help. Tell someone to call 911 and someone else to find an automated external defibrillator (AED).
  2. Check breathing – if the person is not breathing, start CPR.
  3. Begin chest compressions. Use the AED if available.
  4. Keep up the chest compressions until help arrives.

Immediate assistance is the difference between life and death for someone in cardiac arrest. You can read more about the campaign and sudden cardiac arrest here.

Photo credit: Cliff Johnson / Foter / CC BY-SA

Symptoms of a Heart Attack, Silence Can Be Deadly

man clutching heart
We have all seen the Hollywood heart attack. It starts with a middle-aged man clutching his chest and breaking into a sweat before gasping for air and dropping to the ground. This makes good film, but the actual symptoms usually come on much more gradually – or not at all!

Know Your Risk Profile

Before diving deeper into the actual symptoms of a heart attack, it’s important to understand your cardiac risk profile. Having this understanding will help you put the symptoms into context. Risk factors include:

  1. Hereditary
  2. Smoking
  3. High Cholesterol
  4. High Blood Pressure
  5. Inactivity
  6. Obesity

The first risk factor is obviously out of your control. Your risk of a heart attack increases if your father or a brother was diagnosed with heart disease before 55 years of age, or if your mother or a sister was diagnosed before 65 years of age.

If heart disease is in your genes, managing the rest of the risk factors becomes even more critical. Doing so is not complicated, but it is hard; quit smoking, eat healthy, and exercise. The hardest part is getting started.  Set realistic goals, and start making changes.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Hopefully you are working to manage your risk profile. But let’s say you experience some pressure in your chest or pain in your arm. What should you do? Words could not provide a better explanation than the video below. Be warned that parts of it may be considered a little graphic.

Great stuff, but I could have done without the vomit.  Also, if in the U.S., be sure to dial 911.

The Silent Heart Attack

There is one other type of heart attack that you need to be aware of – the silent heart attack. Even the name is scary. As many as 25% of all heart attacks fall into this category. A silent heart attack happens when no symptoms are felt or they are misinterpreted.

This is what happened to me the day I had a heart attack and cardiac arrest. Reading a book to my daughter one minute, no pulse the next. Afterwards, my wife said I had been complaining of fatigue for a few days. Knowing my cardiac risk profile (heredity, smoker, poor diet) I should have talked to my doctor.

If you have a high cardiac risk profile, talk to your doctor about silent heart attacks.  Most importantly, don’t ignore any symptoms of chest pain, “heartburn”, shortness of breath, or fatigue.  Because silent heart attacks happen with no warning, the need for immediate response is critical to your survival.