Although the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack are often confused as being the same medical condition, there's actually a big difference between the two. A heart attack occurs when the arteries supplying blood-carrying oxygen to the heart gets blocked. If the blockage lasts for more than 20 or 30 minutes, the part of the heart muscle that is fed by the blocked artery will die. In cardiac arrest (also called sudden cardiac death), the heart's electrical system malfunctions and not enough blood is pumped to the heart and the brain. Death can occur within minutes after the heart has stopped beating unless a normal heart rhythm can be restored through cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of a defibrillator to shock the heart back to a normal heartbeat.

Know the Warning Signs of Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

There are distinct warning signs between heart attack and cardiac arrest. During cardiac arrest, the victim loses consciousness, stops breathing normally and loses pulse and blood pressure. Calling 911 and getting immediate emergency medical attention is crucial to the person surviving cardiac arrest.

In a heart attack, the warning signs can differ for men and women. Although both men and women will commonly feel chest pain or discomfort when they're having a heart attack, women are more likely than men to have some of the other common symptoms of heart attack, such as shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. And women are less likely to believe that they're having a heart attack and are more likely to delay seeking treatment. Women also tend to be about ten years older than men when they have a heart attack and are more likely than men to have other health issues, including diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure.

Staying Heart Healthy

While heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, there are many lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk for the condition, including:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Maintaining a regular exercise program of between 30 minutes and 60 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet of foods low in fat, cholesterol and salt and high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products
  • Keeping a healthy weight
  • Getting regular health screenings to check blood pressure and cholesterol level readings