Knowing the difference between three potentially-fatal heart conditions can help avert a tragedy

  • India has the highest number of deaths related to cardiovascular disease in the world

  • People often confuse cardiac arrest with heart attack or heart failure

  • Although a heart attack is often the cause, it is not the same as a cardiac arrest or heart failure

Close to midnight on 6 August, 2019, former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj died following a cardiac arrest. People often confuse cardiac arrest with heart attack or heart failure. Although a heart attack is often the cause, it is not the same as a cardiac arrest or heart failure.

India has the highest number of deaths related to cardiovascular disease in the world. Knowing the difference between the three can save lives. That’s why we asked Dr Nishith Chandra, director, interventional cardiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre, to explain the difference and tell us what to do if a friend or a family member is having one of these cardiac events.

Edited excerpts from the interview follow.

Cardiac arrest

The most serious of the three heart conditions, cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood to the body. A person having a cardiac arrest may collapse suddenly, or lose consciousness because the brain stops getting oxygen, or they may stop breathing altogether. Heart attack is one of the major causes of cardiac arrest. Other known causes include poisoning and kidney failure.

To recognise a cardiac arrest, first check if the person is breathing. Place your finger near the nose, check if the chest is moving like it does while breathing or place your hand on the carotid artery near the neck to see if they have a pulse.

 Knowing the difference between three potentially-fatal heart conditions can help avert a tragedy

Representational image. Getty Images

Remember to call an ambulance.

If the patient is responsive, then within 3-4 minutes start giving them cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) until trained medical help arrives. CPR is an attempt to bring the person’s heart beating again. It involves chest compressions and mouth to mouth breathing.

Once the paramedics arrive, they may use an automatic external defibrillator (AED) to revive the vital rhythm of the heart. It is a simple instrument to give a tiny electrical shock to the person, restart the heart and maintain the flow of oxygen in the body. The instrument also helps to confirm whether or not the person has a cardiac arrest - loss of consciousness may also occur because of conditions like stroke and low blood pressure.

Stand back and let the medics do their job.

Heart attack

Heart attack refers to the condition when the blood supply to the heart stops suddenly because of a blockage in the coronary artery. Coronary arteries are the main arteries supplying blood to the upper region of the heart. One of the main reasons for the blockage is the formation of a clot due to the deposition of cholesterol plaque in the arteries.

People having a heart attack often experience angina (severe chest pain), shortness of breath and sweating. The heart keeps beating in a heart attack. However, if the blockage is not removed in due time, it can lead to cardiac arrest.

Remember to call your doctor, and get the patient to the hospital immediately.

A cardiologist may suggest percutaneous methods like an angioplasty and stent or surgery such as coronary bypass graft surgery to manage atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). Anti-platetet drugs like aspirin and anticoagulants may also be used along with surgical methods to relieve the symptoms of heart attack.

Heart failure

Also known as congestive heart failure, this a condition wherein the heart fails to perform its prescribed action. That is, it loses the power to pump blood effectively. This happens when the heart muscles become weak (cardiomyopathy) and are unable to pump blood properly to meet the oxygen needs of the body.

Heart muscles may become weak due to conditions like coronary artery disease, hypertension, etc. Patients suffering from heart failure present symptoms like swelling in the legs, shortness of breath and weakness. Congestive heart failure may be treated using medicines like beta blockers, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, statins, vasodilators, etc.

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Updated Date: Aug 09, 2019 15:33:23 IST