Haims: Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack

Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem that causes the heart to stop beating while a heart attack is a plumbing problem that inhibits blood supply to the heart. While the mortality rate from cardiac arrest is far greater than a heart attack, with a little knowledge, we can increase survival rates.

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, almost 90% of the cardiac arrest episodes that occur outside of a hospital are fatal. Conversely, information from a 2015 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report states that mortality rate from a heart attack may be just above 23%.

Warning signs

Warning signs for cardiac arrest are frequently not obvious and vary widely between people. Half of the time, sudden cardiac arrest occurs without any prior symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they often happen within two weeks prior to a cardiac arrest event.

The most common symptoms are, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, pain in the back of your jaw, nausea and vomiting, and fast-beating or pounding heart. Also, if you find yourself sweating a lot without doing much exercise, you should be aware that this too could be a sign that there is a problem with your heart.

I know these symptoms may appear vague, but with all of our medical understanding of the heart, this is the best there is. So, if you notice any of these symptoms and they’re not related to anything else you know of, like stomach problems, stress, etc., go to your doctor to determine the cause. You’re better off safe than sorry.

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People at risk

If you thought that cardiac arrest and heart attacks only occur in the elderly, you are very wrong and may be in denial of your own risk. Further, if you think that you have little to worry about since you’re young and in great shape because you exercise frequently and eat well, you may want to rethink.

A report from the American Heart Association states that, “Over 20,000 young individuals aged under 45 die due to cardiovascular disease in the USA each year.”

Sudden cardiac arrest is thought to be a leading cause of death in young athletes. Sports-related cardiac arrest account for about 39% of all cardiac arrest in people younger than 18, 13% for those 19 to 25, and 7% of people 25 to 34.

Cardiac arrest is a serious concern for people of all ages. For those who have survived an occurrence, it is not uncommon that many become tethered to their homes and/or local community as they fear should another cardiac event occur, help may not be readily available.

People do not have to feel this way. Concerns of cardiac arrest should not inhibit people from living and/or traveling. If more people knew how to administer chest compressions and using a defibrillator, we could greatly assist people to live the lives of their choosing.

Thanks to a local organization called Starting Hearts, our mountain town has a survival rate for cardiac arrest that is almost three times greater than the rest of the country. How’d they do this? Through a widespread educational program and distribution of about 300 defibrillators.

As cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop beating, the course of remedy is to get the heart beating once again and regain blood flow. The best way of assisting someone experiencing cardiac arrest is by first calling 911 and then by administering chest compressions — and, if available, using a device called an automated external defibrillator (AED). By administering chest compressions and using an AED, you can double or even triple someone’s chance of survival.

Starting Hearts is a jewel in our community. By providing education within our schools, businesses and community at large, they have made a difference. With every person educated, we have an exponential opportunity to save lives.

If you would like to learn more about where defibrillators can be found within the community, or would like to have a representative educate you, your place of work, or an organization you participate in, please reach out to them. They are a fabulous resource and have made our community safer for tourists and all who live here.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He can be contacted at or by calling 970-328-5526.

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