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Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, then you probably already know the difference between an interventional cardiologist and an electrophysiologist.

But do you know the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest? Did you know there was a difference?

Actually, the difference between these two potentially life-threatening events reflects the difference between the two types of heart doctors.

While interventional cardiologists deal with the “plumbing system” of the heart – its blood-pumping pathways (the arteries), electrophysiologists specialize in the heart’s “electrical system” – the impulses that compel the heart to beat, pumping the blood through.

Likewise, a heart attack is the product of a problem with the plumbing system of the heart, while sudden cardiac arrest means trouble with the heart’s electrical system.

A heart attack [aka myocardial infarction] happens when the arteries to the heart are clogged, so the heart can’t get enough blood. The reduced blood flow can damage the heart muscle, but doesn’t necessarily stop the heart or cause death.

Sudden cardiac arrest [SCA] occurs when the heart’s electrical impulses malfunction, causing the heart to beat chaotically and not deliver blood to the body. Without blood flow to the brain, loss of consciousness is almost instantaneous, and death will follow within minutes without immediate emergency treatment – either CPR or an electrical shock.

Other SCA specifics:

  • Sudden cardiac arrest can happen during a heart attack.
  • SCA is the leading cause of natural death in the U.S., accounting for about half of all heart disease deaths each year.
  • The most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation [VF], an erratic firing of electrical impulses within the lower chambers of the heart.
  • The best prevention for SCA is living a heart-healthy lifestyle – eating right, exercising regularly, avoiding obesity, not smoking, and treating heart-related issues like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • For some patients, preventing sudden cardiac arrest means treating their arrhythmia [which can trigger VF] – via medication, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator or cardiac ablation.

For a helpful heart attack/sudden cardiac arrest comparison chart from the Heart Rhythm Society, click here.
~ Jamie LaRue, RN


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