Jan 22, 2020 How to Save a Life

Is it a heart attack or cardiac arrest--what should a bystander do?

person demonstrating CPR technique"Heart attack” and “cardiac arrest” may sound like similar conditions, but they’re not the same—and one is potentially much more life-threatening. “With a heart attack, an artery is clogged, and the majority of patients have 100 percent closure of an artery,” explains Jay H. Stone, MD, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization and Interventional Lab at Community Medical Center in Toms River and a member of the RWJBarnabas Health medical group. “In a cardiac arrest, the heart stops completely and no blood at all is circulating.” Death can be instantaneous.

The two things that determine survival, Dr. Stone explains, are the underlying pathology and the flow of blood to the brain. “If someone passes out in front of you, take action immediately,” he urges. “The patient can’t afford to lose the time that it may take for professional medical help to arrive.” quick action can double or even triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance for survival.

Heart attack

What it is:

  • A circulation problem. Blood flow stops because of a blockage in an artery. Th e part of the heart muscle that is deprived of oxygen-rich blood begins to die.

These may begin hours, days or weeks in advance.

  • Chest pain or feeling of pressure in the chest, possibly spreading to arms, neck, jaw, back or stomach. Feeling sick, sweaty, or short of breath.
  • The person having a heart attack will usually remain conscious.

What to do:
If you are having these symptoms, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor or call 911. If someone you are with appears to be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. Sit the person down and keep them calm while you wait for help.

Cardiac arrest (CA)

What it is:

Usually, an electrical problem that causes the heart to stop pumping. CA can be triggered by a heart attack but can have other causes, such as an undiagnosed heart abnormality or cocaine or amphetamine use.


  • Possibly racing heart or dizziness, but CA may occur without warning
  • A person suffering CA will become unconscious and will not breathe normally, or breathe at all

What to do:

  • Immediately call 911, or have someone else make the call while you perform the steps below:
  • If an AED (automated external defibrillator) is available, begin use, following the prompts.
  • Do CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). If you don’t know conventional CPR, do hands-only CPR.

Hands-only CPR

Hands-only CPR can be done successfully even by someone who’s not a professional. The idea is to push hard and fast in the center of the victim’s chest to the beat of a familiar song that has 100 to 120 beats per minute. Think of the song “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees to help keep compressions in a regular rhythm. If disco doesn’t do it for you, push along to one of these:

• “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé
• “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira
• “I Walk the Line” by Johnny Cash

Get it checked:

Your heart doesn't just beat for you. Get it checked. To make an appointment with one of New Jersey's top cardiac specialists, call: 888.724.7123 or click here