Heart Attacks vs Cardiac Arrest

Heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) are two events that no one hopes to ever be a part of. There is a misconception that heart attacks and cardiac arrest are the same, but in fact they are very different.


Sudden Cardiac Arrest occurs when the electrical activity in the heart malfunctions.

Heart Attacks occur when an artery within the heart carrying blood and oxygen is blocked causing damage to the heart muscle tissue. This can cause cardiac arrest.

Signs & Symptoms

Heart Attack

  • Breathing: trouble breathing, shortness of breath
  • Skin: flushed face, sweating
  • Pain, pressure or tightness in the chest and/or shoulder
  • Anxiety, fear, confusion
  • Circulation: weak, rapid pulse
  • Pain in the arms, neck, back and/or jaw
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Weakness, dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Indigestion
  • Denial of symptoms

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

  • Unconsciousness
  • No signs of breathing or agonal breathing (ie. Abnormal pattern of breathing characterized by gasping and/or labored breathing accompanied by strange vocalizations and movements of the tongue and jaw)


Heart Attacks

If known history of angina (a medically diagnosed condition of poor blood circulation to the heart)

  • Phone EMS
  • Assist the victim into a comfortable position (recommended to sit on the floor)
  • Loosen tight clothing around the neck and chest
  • Help a conscious victim take their prescribe angina medication. Common medications are nitroglycerin tablets or sprays.
  • If no history of angina and victim is distressed or shows symptoms not relieved by medication – phone EMS.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (or if Heart Attack victim goes unconscious)

  • Phone EMS
  • Check for signs of normal breathing
  • Begin CPR if victim is not breathing normally
  • If one is accessible, used an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)

Risk Factors & Prevention

Several factors directly increase the risk of heart disease. The three major risk factors are:

  1. Smoking – the leading factor
  2. High Blood Pressure (hypertension) – high pressure within the blood vessels adds to the workload of the heart.
  3. High Cholesterol – deposits cause atherosclerosis; a narrowing of the arteries that increase the risk of blockage within the arteries of the heart and brain.
  • Unmanageable Risk Factors include age, gender and heredity
  • Manageable Risk Factors include body weight (obesity), smoking, blood pressure, exercise, cholesterol, stress

Choosing a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, eating a balanced diet, and regular check-ups with your doctor can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease and thus having a heart attack.


Common First Aid and CPR courses that train you how to treat a victim suffering from a Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest include:

To learn more about these course offered by First Aid Canada, click here.


Survival rates are highest (up to 75%) when CPR is combined with the use of an AED. For this reason it is now common to find AEDs in malls, office buildings, community centers, hockey arenas, gyms, airports, malls and even people’s homes. To learn more about AEDs offered by First Aid Canada, click here.

Life is Precious. Be Prepared.