Definitions: Heart Attack, Heart Failure, Cardiac Arrest and More

A heart attack, heart failure, and cardiac arrest can all cause chest pain and discomfort. While these terms are related to heart disease, they each have subtly different meanings. 

  • Heart attack: The most common cause is a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood in an artery. These clots often form when cholesterol deposits that line and narrow your artery (atherosclerosis) break off. Your heart may continue to beat, but without a steady supply of oxygen-rich blood, the heart muscle begins to die. 
  • Heart failure: Over time, a gradually weakening heart muscle can’t pump blood to the rest of the body very well. A heart attack can also cause heart failure by weakening the heart. Medicine and medical procedures can manage heart failure, but the only cure is a heart transplant. 
  • Cardiac arrest: This is when your heart suddenly stops beating, sometimes temporarily. It is often caused by heart attacks, but also can be caused by a thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy), heart failure and arrhythmias (unusually fast, slow or irregular heartbeat), or abuse of controlled substances including drugs and alcohol. 

This pain or discomfort from heart disease is called angina. It can feel like pressure or squeezing in your chest, shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back. It may also feel like indigestion. Women, the elderly and people with diabetes may display these classic chest pain symptoms, but more typically feel shortness of breath, extreme weakness, and nausea or vomiting. 

Angina can be stable (during stress or physical activity) or unstable (at rest). If you experience or witness someone with these symptoms, call to 9-1-1 immediately and head to the nearest emergency room. 

Other conditions that may cause chest pain include: 

  • Congenital heart defects: These are the most common type of major birth defect, which can include abnormal heart valves or holes in the heart’s walls that divide the heart’s chambers. 
  • Rheumatic heart disease: This occurs when heart valves are damaged by rheumatic fever, a bacterial infection.

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Frye Heart Center 

420 N Center St
Hickory, NC 28601

Phone: 828. 315.3278

Fax: 828.315.5966

Hours of Operation: 24 Hours