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Cardiac arrest vs. heart attack

Not all heart emergencies are the same.

Heart attacks are caused by a blockage in an artery that feeds blood to the heart. When this happens, the heart muscle can begin to die. While cardiac arrest is sudden, many people can show symptoms in the hours, days or even weeks before a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms can vary greatly, and can also be very different for women than for men.

Cardiac arrests happen when there’s an electrical malfunction in the heart, and can happen suddenly and without warning. About 40,000 sudden cardiac arrests happen in Canada every year, or one every 12 minutes. When the heartbeat is disrupted (and stops pumping oxygenated blood through the body), a person can lose consciousness in less than 10 seconds and die within minutes without treatment. Cardiac arrest is usually reversible if the person gets medical attention quickly.

A defibrillator can help someone who has experienced a cardiac arrest. You don’t need any training to use a machine, as they direct you with voice commands. The devices detect heart rhythm and are designed to only deliver a shock when it will help. You can find out more about how easy it is to use a defibrillator here.