Director & Sr. Consultant

Director & Sr. Consultant
BLK Heart Centre
BLK Super Speciality
Hospital, New Delhi

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 typical symptoms.

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.