How to tell the difference between Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and a Heart Attack (HA)

How to tell the difference between Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) and a Heart Attack (HA)

heart puzzle

Is sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and a heart attack the same medical emergency? Not at all! Let’s discuss the differences between these two medical emergencies.

Define- Sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical condition of the heart resulting in the loss of blood flow to the brain and body. A heart attack is a blockage of the coronary arteries leading to a decrease in blood flow.  You can think of it as SCA being an electrical issue, while HA is a plumbing issue.

Occurrence- Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions and stops beating. The most common form of SCA is ventricular fibrillation. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. When this happens, the heart muscles die or become permanently damaged.

Warning Signs- Typically, there are no warning signs to SCA. Usually, the first indication of SCA is when the victim faints. The second sign is breathing cessation. The warning signs for a heart attack can vary between men a woman. However, most will experience discomfort in upper body, shortness of breath, jaw pain, cold sweats, and even nausea. These symptoms can persist from hours to days, and sometimes weeks, before the actual heart attack.

Symptoms- A sudden cardiac arrest victim always loses consciousness from lack of oxygen. The victim will not be breathing, and death will occur within minutes if the victim is not treated with an AED. A victim of a heart attack is usually conscious and alert. The victim will still be able to breath, but will need medical attention as soon as possible.

Risk of Death- A sudden cardiac arrest victim will die unless treated with an AED. If left untreated, the chances of survival decrease by 10% per minute. Typically, permanent brain damage occurs within 5-7 minutes. A victim of a heart attack can recover fully and lead normal lives, but about a third of heart attacks are deadly. A heart attack can even lead to sudden cardiac arrest.

Treatment- The only treatment for SCA is defibrillation from an automated external defibrillator (AED). A shock from the AED stops the chaotic electrical activity and allows the heart’s sinus node to resume a normal electrical impulse. One treatment of a heart attack can be angioplasty, which opens up the blocked vessels with a medical balloon. Afterwards, a stent can be placed in the artery to help keep it open. Other treatments include clot-busting drugs called thrombolytics or nitroglycerin to reduce chest pain.

Did you know?

On average, there were more than 350,000 incidences of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, with a 12% survivor rate.

On average, about 735,000 people in the U.S. have heart attacks each year. Of those, about 120,000 die.


If you are convinced that you are in need of an AED, give us a call at 800-580-1375. If you still have questions, you can always leave us a comment or email us at


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