What is the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

Both cardiac arrest and heart attacks have a connection but they are not the same medical issue. Dr. Jayne Morgan explains how both impact our health and how knowing CPR can save lives.

In the wake of NFL player Damar Hamlin’s terrifying cardiac arrest incident during a Buffalo Bills football game, theGrio spoke with Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist leading the COVID Task Force at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, Georgia.

She not only explained how heart issues impact Black communities but also elaborated on the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack.

“Cardiac arrest literally means that the heart is no longer functioning,” Morgan explained. “So it’s really sudden death. And that can be caused by some cardiac issues.”

Damar Hamlin of the NFL’s Buffalo Bills recently suffered a cardiac arrest. In light of the fact that Black Americans are at higher risk for such episodes, a prominent cardiologist stresses the importance of learning CPR. (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex, File)

Morgan says one of those issues can be an actual heart attack. A heart attack occurs when there is a severe reduction or blockage of blood flow, according to the Mayo Clinic.

“Heart attack can also be a cause of cardiac arrest,” she explains.

Another important term to know is heart disease, which refers to multiple types of heart conditions. These conditions, such as CAD (coronary artery disease), can lead to events like a heart attack or heart failure.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health issued a report that found that Black Americans were 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. According to The Cleveland Clinic, Black men have a 70% higher risk of heart failure relative to white men, while Black women are more likely than white women to have a heart attack.

Despite recent high-profile news stories about cardiac arrest, including the most recent death of Lisa Marie Presley — daughter of Elvis Presley — Morgan says cardiac arrest happens often. “Unfortunately, cardiac arrest is more common than we think,” she says.

Morgan says it makes it all the more important for everyday people to know CPR in the event they must intervene to save someone’s life. Time is of the essence. People who go into cardiac arrest around bystanders without the proper training don’t have good prospects.

“Their chances of survival are much slimmer than someone who collapses and there’s someone nearby who can immediately begin to administer CPR to make certain that blood and oxygen — more importantly — are flowing through the body while they await medical personnel,” she says.

Not all instances of cardiac arrest are treated equal either. According to The New England Journal of Medicine, Black people “were less likely to receive bystander CPR at home (38.5%) than white persons (47.4%) … and less likely to receive bystander CPR in public locations than white persons (45.6% vs. 60.0%).”

The disparity could be a motivating factor for mobilization within Black communities to learn CPR and empower each other with the skills to intervene and save lives. It’s part of the reason why Morgan’s series, The Stairwell Chronicles, exists. The program aims to make science accessible and open to those who need it most.

“CPR is something that absolutely everyone can learn.”

Watch the full conversation with Dr. Jayne Morgan above, and tune into TheGrio Weekly with Natasha S. Alford, each Friday at 2 p.m. and 10 p.m. ET for more important news you need to know.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. TheGrio’s Black Podcast Network is free too. Download theGrio mobile apps today!