Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

It is likely that a person is having a cardiac arrest if they:

  • Collapse suddenly and lose consciousness (pass out)
  • Are not breathing or their breathing is ineffective or they are gasping for air
  • Do not respond to shouting or shaking
  • Do not have a pulse

If you think someone is having a cardiac arrest, call 9-1-1 and then start CPR right away. You do not need to try to find a pulse.

Cardiac arrest or heart attack? Know the difference.

Many people confuse cardiac arrests and heart attacks. A cardiac arrest is caused by an electrical problem in the heart that stops the heartbeat. It is often fatal unless someone takes immediate action. A heart attack is caused by a blocked arteries  in the heart. The loss of blood flow damages the heart muscle, but the heart usually keeps beating.


Learn what a heart attack feels like flyer

Our fact sheet describes heart attack warning signs and explains how to take action if you have symptoms.

What are the warning signs?

Most people who had a cardiac arrest had one or more symptoms in the hour before the event. Some symptoms may even appear a few weeks before a cardiac arrest. But many people who have a cardiac arrest had no prior symptoms.

Possible warning signs of a heart attack, a key cause of cardiac arrest, include those listed below.

  • Shortness of breath (more common in women than men) 
  • Extreme tiredness (unusual fatigue)
  • Back pain
  • Flu-like symptoms
  • Belly pain, nausea, and vomiting
  • Chest pain, mainly angina (more common in men than women) 
  • Repeated dizziness or fainting, especially while exercising hard, sitting, or lying on your back
  • Heart palpitations, or feeling as if your heart is racing, fluttering, or skipping a beat

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider if you have warning signs, such as fainting or chest pain, that might signal a higher risk of cardiac arrest. Your provider will do an exam, check your health history, and do tests to help assess your heart health. If you have coronary heart disease or other conditions that may increase your risk of a future cardiac arrest, work with your healthcare team to set up a treatment plan that works for you.

Do not ignore symptoms

People who get medical care for warning signs are 5 times more likely to survive cardiac arrest. If you have a warning sign, see your healthcare provider.

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