Heart disease is a leading killer around the world and the top cause of death in the United States. It killed an estimated 17.9 million people in 2019, representing 32% of all deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization.
But not all heart disease is the same. It can affect the blood vessels to the heart or brain, heart muscles and valves, and other areas of the body. Cardiovascular diseases can require long-term treatment, or they can come on suddenly and seriously.
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest results from electrical disturbances that cause the heart to suddenly stop beating the way it should.
In cardiac arrest, death can result quickly if steps aren’t taken right away. “Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR is performed and a defibrillator shocks the heart and restores a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes,” the American Heart Association says.
More than 350,000 cardiac arrests happen outside a hospital in the United States each year, the association said.
A sudden, unexpected loss of heart function also results in a sudden loss of breathing and consciousness.
Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, although almost any known heart condition, including heart attack, can cause cardiac arrest.
Another emergency that can lead to cardiac arrest, commotio cordis, is a disruption of heart rhythm after a blow to the area directly over the heart at a key time during a heartbeat cycle.
It’s rare, but it mostly happens in boys and young men during sports. The American Heart Association says it’s the leading cause of deaths in youth baseball in the United States, typically two to three per year.
Automated external defibrillators have helped increase the survival rate.
What is a heart attack?
Unlike cardiac arrest, a heart attack is a circulation problem. When circulation is blocked or cut off in some way and blood is no longer supplied to the heart muscle, this can damage that muscle; it’s commonly described as a heart attack; doctors may refer to it as myocardial infarction.
Blockages causing heart attacks are mostly caused by a buildup of plaque in the arteries. Plaque forms when cholesterol combines with fat, calcium and other substances in the blood.
Combined, these elements harden into plaque, which can then rupture, causing a blood clot to form. Large clots can completely block the flow of blood through an artery.
“People who are at risk for heart attacks are people who have a family history of heart attack, having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise, cigarette smoking – the major risk factors we always discuss,” Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of Atria New York City and clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, previously told CNN.