Heart Fail, Heart Attack, Cardiac Arrest: Why You Must Know The Difference

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Dec 27, 2016 07:33 AM EST

Doppler scan of the vertebral artery. (Photo : Photo by: BSIP/UIG via Getty Images)

People often interchange the words Heart Fail, Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest as if they are one and the same. This casual approach needs to change as they are three very different issues requiring individual solution.

Be it the death of iconic Michael Jackson years ago due to cardiac arrest or the recent death of the singing sensation George Michael due to heart failure, the similarities and differences in these terms are often unclear.

As reported by CNN, on the Christmas day George Michael, 53, died peacefully lying on his bed as his heart failed him. A 'heart failure' is typically used to refer a heart not working optimally but it can be treated. It may also result in the heart not working at all therefore the term has multiple possibilities as a result.

Heart is essentially a pump that pushes blood through the arteries to the body's various organs and tissues. When this process faces a problem right at the source i.e. when the heart cannot effectively pump out the blood it is a case of Heart Failure.

When the blood flow from the heart through the arteries slows down and the blood returning to the heart is backing up, it causes congestion; a case of serious heart failure. The blood jam usually (not always) causes swelling in legs and ankles. This kind of heart failure may also affect kidney functions like disposing off water and sodium resulting in further swelling. In the worse scenario the fluid collected in the lungs obstruct the breathing process.

If not treated on time this heart failure may lead to a life threatening Heart Attack. A Heart Attack is a circulation problem i.e. when blood is no longer supplied to the heart. Doctors describe this layman term Heart Attack as "Myocardial Infarction" informs Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the American heart association and Medical Directtor of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health, NYC.

Blood pressure, diabetes and obesity they can all lead to Heart Attack. When cholesterol combines with fat, calcium and other substances in the blood Plaques are formed and heart attacks are mostly caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries.

"People who are at risk for heart attacks are those who have a family history of heart attack. People having high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, lack of exercise and cigarette smokers are also at risk." Goldberg Concluded.

According to Daily Mail, heart failure is often a very vaguely used misleading term and its better to call it heart inefficiency. It simply means the heart isn't working as it should, it doesn't mean the heart has stopped functioning. Its an issue with the heart's efficiency/performance.

Cardiac arrest is the technical term used to describe the situation when the heart has completely stopped functioning and its not beating anymore.

Apart from some unknown reasons a severe injury, chronic disease and some kind of shock may trigger a cardiac arrest. Its basically an electrical malfunctioning in the heart resulting in an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). When the heart fails to pump blood to the organs, lungs and particularly brain the person loses consciousnes and if not treated on time it often leads to death.

To sum it up a Heart Attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked while a Cardiac arrest means malfunctioning of heart when the heart completely stops beating all of a sudden. 

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