Good health is on a lot of minds these days. Even before coronavirus was a thing, people were giving thought to healthy living. They were thinking about things like exercise, changing their diets, and being careful about drug and alcohol use. The interesting thing is that a lot of us make health choices based on very limited knowledge.
For example, how much do you know about heart attack and cardiac arrest? Based on the knowledge you do possess, would you be in favour of installing defibrillators in all public spaces? The topic of publicly accessible defibrillators is often complicated by a lack of knowledge about heart attack and cardiac arrest.
For the record, the two medical conditions are separate and distinct. One can lead to the other, but they are not the same. In fact, you would not use a defibrillator to treat a heart attack. That is one of the many misunderstandings surrounding this topic.
What a Heart Attack Is
People using ‘heart attack’ and ‘cardiac arrest’ interchangeably is nothing new. We have been doing it for years. Nonetheless, a heart attack is a very specific thing. It occurs while the heart is still beating. If not treated swiftly, it can eventually lead to cardiac arrest. More on that later.
Heart attack is a condition that occurs when blood supply to the heart is cut off. Also known as myocardial infarction (MI), a heart attack is almost always caused by a blocked artery. Blood does not make it to the heart, thereby causing muscle tissue to begin dying. The amount of damage done is generally in direct correlation to the length of time the blood supply is cut off.
Because a heart attack occurs when the heart is still beating, defibrillation will not help. The way to treat a heart attack is to get the blood flowing to the heart again.
Heart Attack Symptoms
Knowing heart attack symptoms can help people differentiate between it and cardiac arrest. The two most common symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath. In terms of the former, the pain is often described as intense pressure on the chest applied by a heavy object. It is described as being a squeezing pain that can radiate into the arms, back, neck, and jaw.
Shortness of breath is pretty self-explanatory. A person suffering from it would feel like he or she is not getting enough air no matter how hard he/she tries to breathe. Shortness of breath during a heart attack occurs because the amount of oxygen available for use is reduced due to blood flow being cut off.
Other symptoms of a heart attack include feeling lightheaded, feeling weak, and experiencing overwhelming levels of anxiety. Note that it is possible to experience a heart attack while only displaying just a couple of the symptoms.
What Cardiac Arrest Is
Where a heart attack is a condition in which the heart is not receiving ample blood supply, cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart completely stops beating. A non-beating heart is no longer pumping blood throughout the body. The end result is injury, and potential death, due to oxygen starvation.
This is where the defibrillator comes into play. CPR can absolutely keep a stopped heart pumping blood through manual manipulation. But the only way to restart a stopped heart is with an electrical charge. Defibrillation provides that charge.
A defibrillator is essentially a small box that does two things. First, it monitors for an active heartbeat through the use of sensors and electrodes. Second, it delivers a measured electrical shock to restart the heart. Manually operated and automated defibrillators are in use today, though the automated type is increasingly more common.
Cardiac Arrest Symptoms
The most dangerous thing about cardiac arrest is its sudden onset. Remember that a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, but it doesn’t have to. Cardiac arrest can occur on its own for a variety of reasons. The symptoms are pretty straightforward:
- Physical collapse
- Lack of consciousness
- Lack of responsiveness
- Unnatural or complete lack of breathing.
Cardiac arrest is not something that resolves on its own. According to the British heart foundation, a person suffering cardiac arrest will die without immediate treatment or medical attention. This brings us back to the defibrillator question.
Automated emergency defibrillators (AEDs) deliver the electrical charge necessary to revive a cardiac arrest patient. More importantly, a person need not be a trained medical professional to operate one. Using an AED is as simple as unpacking it, following basic instructions, and pressing a button to turn it on.
Now that you know the difference between heart attack and cardiac arrest, does that change your opinion about whether or not defibrillators should be placed in all public buildings? The mere fact that cardiac arrest can kill in minutes is the main reason given in support of publicly available defibrillators.
There are warning signs of a heart attack. A person suffering from a heart attack should absolutely seek medical attention right away. Someone suffering from cardiac arrest doesn’t have that option. It is up to others in the general vicinity to recognise what is going on and do something about it. Thus, the support for defibrillators in public places.