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Cardiac Arrest & Heart Attack: What To Do (Infographic)

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Your body is a complex, intricate organism that does amazing functions every day. However, sometimes things go wrong. Due to an unhealthy lifestyle or just a wearing down of the body, things like heart attacks and cardiac arrest can happen to anyone. Knowing the difference between experiencing cardiac arrest and having a heart attack can be essential to saving someone’s life.

Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack Symptoms | UnityPoint Health - Methodist

What is Cardiac Arrest?

A cardiac arrest occurs when your heart suddenly stops beating. The heart functions through electrical pulses, and when those pulses are interrupted it can cause an irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest. The cause of cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. It does not have anything to do with your arteries’ functions. Cardiac arrest causes blood flow to stop to your entire body. Almost 360,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of a hospital each year in the U.S. according to the American Heart Association

What Will You See During Cardiac Arrest?

If you are near someone experiencing cardiac arrest, you will notice that they suddenly become unresponsive, will not be breathing or might be gasping for air.

What to Do if Someone is Experiencing Cardiac Arrest

Someone suffering from cardiac arrest can die in a matter of minutes. If treated within those few minutes, it can be reversible. 

Call 9-1-1 immediately and have someone else begin CPR. Ask to be taken to either the  UnityPoint Health - Proctor or UnityPoint Health - Methodist Emergency Department.


CPR, or cardiopulmonary resuscitation, starts with chest compressions. If you are not trained in CPR, you should ONLY use chest compressions. If available, use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) as soon as possible.

CPR for the Untrained

  • If the person appears to be unconscious, tap or shake their shoulder and loudly ask if they are okay. If there is no response, begin chest compressions.

  • Put the person on their back on a hard surface.

  • Kneel next to their neck and shoulders.

  • Put the heel of your hand in the middle of their chest, between the nipples, and put your other hand on top of the first hand.

  • Keep your elbows straight and your shoulders above your hands.

  • Use your body weight to push straight down on their chest at least 2 inches.

  • Continue pushing hard and fast at a rate of 100 compressions per minute.

  • Continue until medical help arrives, or an AED is available.

CPR keeps blood flowing to important organs, like the brain and heart, and helps keep someone alive. Even if you are untrained, you could save a life with chest compressions.

What is an AED?

An Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is a device that can check a heart rhythm and administer a shock to the heart in an attempt to restore a regular heartbeat. The defibrillator will verify the heartbeat and use voice commands to prompt you when a shock is needed. The shock is sent through electrodes that are stuck to the chest with sticky pads. An untrained person can use the defibrillator, but like CPR, there is training that you can receive.

What is a Heart Attack?

When blood flow is blocked from entering the heart, you will experience a heart attack. A common cause of heart attacks is coronary heart disease, a condition in which plaque builds up in the arteries of the heart. After several years of buildup, part of the plaque may break off and form a blood clot. This clot could eventually block the entire artery. The part of the heart that isn’t receiving blood begins to die. The heart continues to beat during a heart attack.

Heart attack symptoms may begin the moment you have a heart attack, or they could begin weeks before a heart attack occurs.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest discomfort (pressure, squeezing, fullness, pain) in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or comes and goes.

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.

  • Nausea.

  • Lightheadedness.

Men are more likely to experience chest pain and discomfort during a heart attack while women are more likely to experience symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and back and jaw pain. The most common symptom, however, is chest pain and discomfort for both genders. More damage is done to the heart as more time goes by without treatment during a heart attack.

What to Do if Someone is Experiencing a Heart Attack

If you are experiencing any symptoms of a heart attack, call 9-1-1 immediately and ask to be taken to either the UnityPoint - Proctor or UnityPoint Health - Methodist Emergency Department. According to the American Heart Association, those who are taken to the hospital by ambulance statistically receive treatment an hour faster than someone who arrived by car. 

Why do Heart Attacks and Cardiac Arrest Get Confused?

They are often confused because heart attacks are common causes of cardiac arrest, but most heart attacks do not cause cardiac arrest. 

If you or someone you know experiences a heart attack or cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and ask to be taken to either the UnityPoint Health - Proctor or UnityPoint Health - Methodist Emergency Department for the best medical care possible.