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How to identify a cardiac arrest

Learn the basics

Heart Attack or Cardiac Arrest?


If someone has a cardiac arrest, they will be unresponsive and not breathing normally. To check for a response try shouting their name or giving them a gentle shake by the shoulders. To check if they are breathing watch to see if their abdomen is rising and falling normally (do not place your face close to theirs).

Next shout for help and call 999. The 999 call handler will ask if the patient is breathing normally and talk you through what to do next.

Sometimes in TV and media the terms heart attack and cardiac arrest are used interchangeably, but there are differences. To learn about the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest check out our infographic and a video from one of our partners, the British Heart Foundation.

The image is an infographic which presents a comparison between cardiac arrest and heart attack. The title of the graphic is “Cardiac Arrest versus Heart Attack”. The subtitle states: Know the difference and how you can help. The graphic is split into two sections: cardiac arrest (with a blue background) and heart attack (with pink background). Below that is the Save a Life for Scotland logo. Text in the blue box (cardiac arrest) is: “when the heart stops beating, person is unconscious, not breathing or breathing abnormally. Call 999, start CPR, use a defibrillator if available”. Text in the pink box (heart attack) is: “blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked, person is usually conscious and in pain, breathing. Call 999, reassure the individual until help arrives”.

*The CPR steps are slightly different than normal due to Covid-19 and you if want to learn more check out the latest guidance from the Resus Council UK.