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World Heart Day 2023: Sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack, heart failure; what's the difference? Cardiologist explains

By, New Delhi
Sep 28, 2023 12:26 PM IST

A cardiologist explains how the three CVD conditions - heart attacks, heart failure and sudden cardiac deaths, differ in condition, symptoms, and treatment.

Heart health has been one of the biggest casualties in the today's fast-paced routine that leaves little time and space for developing healthy lifestyle habits which can go a long way in preventing onset of chronic diseases. Rise in heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular conditions has become a cause of concern. Stress, alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet are among the major factors that are affecting heart health of people of all age groups. While people are hitting gyms to stay in shape, they are hardly modifying their food habits and taking measures to control stress, which could be causing sudden cardiac events and deaths. (Also read: World Heart Day: 10 signs of an unhealthy heart you shouldn’t ignore)

Stress, alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet are among the major factors that are affecting heart health of people of all age groups.(Pixabay)
Stress, alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise, poor diet are among the major factors that are affecting heart health of people of all age groups.(Pixabay)

"India accounts for approximately a quarter of cardiovascular disease (CVDs) related deaths worldwide, with an estimated 17.9 million deaths annually. An equally disturbing number of hospitalizations supplement the alarming number of deaths due to multiple categories of cardiovascular conditions. A study published by the Asian Pacific Society of Cardiology (APSC) reports that this high number can be due to various factors, the most prominent being bad lifestyle choices and unhealthy diets. Despite trying to be physically fit, people suffer from poor health due to lifestyle behaviours such as food and drink choices, smoking, alcoholism, inadequate sleep and more," says Dr H.N. Mishra, Senior Consultant Interventional Cardiologist, Apollo Hospital Bhubaneswar.

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Unfortunately, most individuals do not take the onset of the conditions seriously until they become more critical, mainly due to the lack of understanding of the condition and their implications. Not only the public but also caregivers confuse the medical terms and use them interchangeably without understanding the repercussions.

"While heart complications and associated co-morbid conditions are interlinked, these conditions require distinct treatments based on a patient's medical condition. Thus, it becomes essential to understand how the three most critical CVD conditions, heart attacks, heart failure and sudden cardiac deaths, differ in condition, symptoms, and treatment," says Dr Mishra.

On the occasion of World Heart Day (September 29), let's understand from Dr Mishra how heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest and heart failure are different from each other.

1. Heart attack

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is reduced or blocked. Blood clots, atherosclerosis, fat, or cholesterol deposits in the coronary arteries cause this blockage. During a heart attack, the heart continues to beat, but oxygen-rich blood can't reach the organ for proper functioning. The longer the treatment is delayed, the more damage happens, causing a heart attack possibly leading to sudden cardiac arrest.

The three types of heart attacks are:

  • Unstable angina: Damage to the heart due to reduced blood flow to the heart occurring at rest or on minimal exertion in the absence of damage of heart muscle is an unstable angina. This could lead to heart attack.
  • Non-ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (NSTEMI): When the coronary artery is partially blocked, blood flow is reduced, causing damage to the heart. This condition is referred to as NSTEMI, which is a severe condition.
  • ST segment elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI): When a coronary artery becomes completely blocked, and a large portion of the muscle stops receiving blood, the condition is referred to as STEMI or a major heart attack.
  • MINOCA: When the patient of heart attack with signs and symptoms of heart damage, investigations suggesting damage to heart and blood vessel supplying the heart is < 50% blocked and not obstructing the blood flow, then the condition is referred to as MINOCA or Myocardial Infarction with Non-Obstructive Coronary Arteries.

Symptoms of heart attack

Heart attack symptoms might vary based on age, gender, and lifestyle. However, some common signs include chest pain, shortness of breath, cold sweats, nausea, and vomiting, which usually develop slowly over time. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, an immediate visit to a cardiologist is recommended.

2. Heart failure

When the heart cannot pump enough blood through the body, the condition is referred to as heart failure. The condition is caused by multiple underlying conditions such as coronary artery disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.

Symptoms of heart failure

The most common symptoms of heart failure are swelling of feet, ankles and legs as the heart's pumping ability weakens, and blood and fluid travel back into the lungs. Some people also experience weakness, lethargy, and shortness of breath. A cardiologist will determine the underlying cause of heart failure and then outline the treatment based on the cause.

3. Cardiac arrest

When there is a sudden loss of all heart activity due to an irregular heart rhythm, the condition is referred to as cardiac arrest. During a cardiac arrest, the person stops breathing and becomes unconscious, which could lead to death without immediate treatment. The underlying causes of cardiac arrest include coronary heart disease, physical stress, and hereditary disorders. However, cardiac arrest can also occur with no known cause. Emergency treatment with professional healthcare providers is required for sudden cardiac arrest. The line of treatment could include cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and shocks to the heart with an automated external defibrillator (AED).

"Any heart condition is serious and requires immediate medical intervention. Recognizing the warning signs early is crucial for timely intervention and preventing complications. Besides staying vigilant and seeking prompt medical attention when needed, people should go for regular check-ups with a cardiologist and maintaining a healthy lifestyle," adds Dr Mishra.

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