Differentiating Cardiac Arrest from Seizures
Cardiac Arrest Vs Seizure
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating. Without immediate treatment, victims die. Defibrillators can restart the heart.
Studies indicate that people often misdiagnose syncope as seizures. It can be hard to tell them apart if the person’s body jerks. One study suggests that you count the jerks: 10 or more jerks is likely syncope, less than 10 is a seizure.
What is a seizure?
During a seizure, there is abnormal electrical activity in the brain. This can cause a variety of symptoms that include changes in behavior, movement and feelings. Seizures can last up to two minutes. They may cause someone to fall, have a distorted vision, become unconscious or lose consciousness. There are many different kinds of seizures, varying in where they begin in the brain and how far the symptoms spread.
A person who has a seizure is experiencing a medical emergency and should be treated with immediate care. EMS workers should use defibrillation equipment if they see shockable initial rhythm or agonal breathing. These are signs of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).
Healthcare professionals don’t know if arrhythmias can cause seizures. However, they do know that having a history of seizures increases the risk of a future arrhythmia in certain people. This is because the abnormal patterns of electrical activity in the brain can cause convulsive syncope, which can look very much like a seizure.
What is a heart attack?
A heart attack is when a blocked artery cuts off the blood supply to your heart. This causes the heart muscle to die because it can’t get enough oxygen. It is an emergency, and you must seek medical attention right away. People who get prompt treatment are five times more likely to survive a cardiac arrest than those who don’t.
Symptoms of a heart attack can include chest pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes and may feel like pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain. You might also feel shortness of breath, weakness or fainting and break out in a cold sweat.
In the hospital, a doctor or nurse will listen to your chest with a stethoscope and do a blood test to look for evidence of heart damage. They will also do an electrocardiogram (EKG) to check the rhythm of your heartbeat. They may also use a device called a defibrillator to give you an electric shock to return your heart back to a normal rhythm.
What is the difference between a seizure and a heart attack?
A heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of oxygen to part of your heart. This can cause a sudden, intense pain in your chest called a myocardial infarction. Some people also feel a ‘fluttering’ in their heart called tachycardia or arrhythmia. If it causes a lack of oxygen to the brain, it can make you faint or appear to have seizures (called syncope).
Cardiac arrest happens when your heart suddenly stops beating and stops pumping blood. This is a medical emergency that can be deadly in minutes unless you get CPR and an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) immediately. Cardiac arrest often happens to people who seem healthy, such as children and young adults. They might have a history of pre-existing heart problems, but it can also occur in seemingly healthy individuals who are exercising. It is common for agonal breathing and decorticate posturing to mimic a seizure, which can delay CPR.
What should I do if I see someone having a seizure?
Most seizures last 1-3 minutes and end on their own. But, if they last longer than that or they lose consciousness and don’t come back right away, call 911.
Keep the person calm, and help them stay awake after the seizure ends. Avoid holding them down or restraining them, which can cause injuries. Move anything that could injure them, like sharp objects or dangerous furniture, away from them. Help them sit down in a safe place, and don’t put anything in their mouth. (They may bite their tongue during the seizure, and putting something in their mouth can lead to injury or choking.)
You can also try to prevent accidents by moving the person to a safer area, for example, out of traffic or away from the edge of a railing or high platform. If they’re at risk of hitting their head, place a soft item like a jacket or pillow under their head.