What is Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest and Heart Failure

I find many of patients get confused with term heart attack, cardiac arrest and heart failure. These terms are most commonly used by doctors while explaining disease process to patients and their relatives. In this article, we will discuss in brief meaning of these terms.

Heart attack, cardiac arrest and heart failure are few of the common diseases which affects the cardiovascular system. So, it is necessary to understand what these are and what is the difference between each of them.

Above mentioned diseases can be present as a single entity or can co-exist in the same patient. Treatment of each of these disease differs significantly.

Heart Attack.

Heart attack means there is cessation or inadequate blood flow to a particular portion of the heart. These happen due to blocking inside the coronary artery. This block is more often due to a disease process known as atherosclerosis you can read this articles to know more on prevention of heart attack 7 Tips to Prevent Heart Attack.

A patient suffering from heart attack complains of chest pain which commonly presents at the centre of the chest (retrosternal). The type of pain is squeezing or pressing type. More often patients say it is a discomfort rather than actual pain. Sometimes it is associated with breathlessness and sweating.

Sometimes the heart attack can occur without any obvious symptoms, or with minimal symptoms. This type of heart attack is called as a silent heart attack. A silent heart attack is common in diabetic and old age patients. These patients present to doctors with the complication of the heart attack.

Heart attack Cardiac arrest and Heart failure
Heart attack Cardiac arrest and Heart failure

Complications of Heart attack.

Heart attack if not treated in a timely manner, can lead to complications, namely cardiac arrest leading to heart failure, arrhythmias or death.


I will be discussing cardiac arrest and heart failure below. Now I will focus on arrhythmias. Truly speaking cardiac arrest is also an arrhythmia.


The heart contracts in a rhythmic(regular) fashion. i.e. 70 to 100 beats per minute. Each contraction happens at fixed time interval.

In patients suffering from arrhythmias this rate and/or rhythm may be disarranged leading to complications. Arrhythmias may occur with low heart rate (bradycardias) or with high heart rate (tachycardia). Both when severe can lead to death.

Cardiac Arrest.

Cardiac arrest means complete cessation of contraction of the heart. If this is transient i.e less than few minutes and if heart contraction is reinitiated then the patient may survive, if not patient dies.

Mode of treating cardiac arrest is cardiopulmonary resuscitation. For the general public, it is just cardiac resuscitation i.e. compressing the chest with the hand.

Cardiolpulommanry resuscitation can be done by non-medical personal also. They need to be trained. High school students can also be trained.

Heart Failure.

The heart has to pump blood to meet needs of the body. In patients suffering from heart failure this pumping of blood less than needed.

In patients suffering from heart attack muscle tissue of heart gets damaged, this leads to the lessened force of contraction and heart failure. Symptoms of heart failure are breathlessness, easy fatigability, orthopnea(inability lay flat) fall in blood pressure.

Apart in heart attack, heart failure and cardiac arrest and arrhythmias of the heart can occur in other cardiovascular diseases also, which I am planning  cover in one future articles.

Author: Dr Umesh Bilagi

MBBS, MD, DM (cardiology). I am Interventional cardiologist. Blogging is my passion. Associate professor of cardiology KIMS Hubli. Director and consultant at Tatwadarsha Hospital Hubli. Owner of Jeevan Jyoti Hospital Hubli. Mobile +91 9343403620.

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