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EXPLAINER: What's the difference between stroke and cardiac arrest?

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Feb 16, 2024 4:02 pm

Heart problems have always been a cause of concern for many. Recently, Kris Aquino bared her fears of being put in a risky situation because of how her multiple autoimmune diseases have started affecting her heart.

In a Zoom interview with Boy Abunda on his program Fast Talk with Boy Abunda, the Queen of All Media revealed that her condition has worsened to the point that she could go into cardiac arrest at any time.

"Our heart is surrounded by muscles para maprotektahan 'yung puso. 'Yung muscles na 'yun that are surrounding my heart, magang maga sila," Kris explained.

"'Yung sa akin, 'yung pamamaga, hindi lang sa labas ng puso kundi doon sa middle layer. The problem there is... maglakad lang ako papunta ng banyo or mag-attempt ako magdagdag ng timbang, biglang kapag tinest na ako, ang heart rate ko 120. May point na nag-enjoy ko 'yung bathtub, nagbanlaw ako, it was 146," she continued.

Aside from fearing cardiac arrest, the multimedia personality also revealed that she "could have a stroke at any time," noting that some relatives in her father's side also suffered from cardiovascular diseases.

While cardiac arrest and stroke can both be life-threatening, it's important to note that they are two separate things that affect one's body differently. Knowing the distinction between the two could be a big help in case one gets faced with any of them.

Cardiac arrest vs. stroke

The main difference between cardiac arrest and stroke is the organs that they affect. 

According to Dr. Nyssa Elline Palileo, who specializes in adult cardiology, a cardiac arrest primarily involves the heart and occurs when the organ stops pumping blood unexpectedly. 

"Cardiac arrest happens when there is a problem in the electrical system which causes the heart to stop pumping blood. It can be caused by a heart attack due to coronary artery disease or an inherited heart condition," she told PhilSTAR L!fe.

Because of the lack of blood flow to the brain and other important organs, the person suffering from the condition will lose consciousness in a matter of seconds. 

A common cause of cardiac arrest is having an irregular heartbeat, which is also known as arrhythmia. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute explained that a heart with arrhythmia may beat too quickly or too slowly, causing one to experience dizziness, fainting, chest pain, difficulty breathing, among others.

Other causes of cardiac arrest include cardiomyopathy, or the disorder of the heart muscle that can make it harder to pump blood, and coronary artery disease, which is a common heart condition where the major blood vessels cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart because of plaque build-up.

"These disorders can also cause fatal arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm, which can lead to sudden cardiac death," Palileo said.

A stroke, meanwhile, is a "disease caused by a problem in the blood vessels supplying our brain," neurologist Dr. Miguela Marie Señga told L!fe. "The blood vessels can either be blocked or ruptured."

"When this happens, the part of the brain that is supplied by that blood vessel gets damaged because there is no more delivery of oxygen and nutrients to the area affected," she said.

"The normal function of the part of the brain that gets damaged becomes lost. For example, if the part of the brain responsible for movement is affected, it results in weakness or paralysis," she added.

Cardiologist Dr. Eric John Marayag said in an interview with L!fe that "a case of severe stroke may lead to cardiac arrest"—and it's usually caused by conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, or aneurysm of the cerebral arteries.

What to do when they happen

It’s crucial to keep in mind that both cardiac arrest and stroke occur rapidly and require immediate medical care as they could lead to death.

While a cardiac arrest is often quick and comes without any warning at all, Marayag said that are may be symptoms that one will experience before the condition hits one's body.

"Usually, sudden cardiac arrests may present as sudden loss of conciousness. Other symptoms may help observed before an actual cardiac arrest such as dizziness, chest pain, and convulsions," he explained.

If a person suddenly collapses due to the condition, a bystander can offer temporary help by performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or using chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth breathing. 

The NYU Grossman School of Medicine stated that not many can survive cardiac arrest as they are not able to receive treatment quickly enough. If they do, they may still develop neurologic dysfunction, brain injury, disorders of consciousness, neurocognitive deficits, and other negative changes in their physical and psychological well-being.

Compared to the abruptness of cardiac arrest, a stroke has warning signs that must be identified quickly to save a person’s life. 

Señga said that one should bear in mind the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T. in recognizing a stroke, which stands for Balance, Eyes, Face, Arm, Speech, and Time.

The acronym, along with these questions, could help one identify a stroke.

If a person is indeed having one, you can help them lie down on their side to promote blood flow and loosen any restrictive clothing while the emergency team is on their way to offer medical assistance.

Prevention is better than cure

Cardiac arrest and stroke are conditions that one definitely wouldn’t want to experience, so it’s best to be mindful of what one does to prevent them from happening.

Palileo stressed the importance of having a healthy diet consisting of vegetables, fruits, and other nutrient-rich foods.

"Stop smoking, be regularly physically active, maintain a healthy weight, control the blood pressure, manage the cholesterol, and address the blood glucose," she added.

Marayag said exercising for 30 to 45 minutes on most days of the week, having a moderate or low salt consumption, avoiding food with preservatives, and reducing stress could also help with its prevention.

"If a person is doagnosed with hypertension or diabetes, religious intake of prescribed medications to control these conditions can also prevent complications. A regular check up with your doctor to monitor for risk factors for such disease is also needed," he continued.

If the causes are genetic or other cardiomyopathies leading to arrhythmias, certain devices such as an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator can decrease the risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest.

For stroke specifically, Señga said one should avoid factors that causes the condition such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, stress, smoking, and obstructive sleep apnea. "Don't wait until you're old before you do this. Stroke can happen to young people, too," she stressed. (with reports from Brooke Villanueva)