Heart Attack vs. Cardiac Arrest: A Doctor Breaks Down What Happened To NFL Star Damar Hamlin

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There are a lot of health headlines flying around these days, and sometimes it's hard to know what is fact and what is fiction, so we asked family doctor + health expert Dr. Jen Caudle to weigh in on some of the biggest ones—starting with NFL player Damar Hamlin’s shocking January 2 collapse. 

In case you aren't familiar with what happened in the Buffalo Bills football game on January 2nd, during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals, 24-year-old safety, Damar Hamlin, collapsed on the field following a tackle. After he was administered Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated external defibrillation (AED), the football player was rushed to a nearby hospital. Miraculously, nine days later, he was discharged to rehabilitate at home.  

Despite Hamlin’s recovery, his story sparked a slew of conspiracy theories about his health condition.  

"One thing that we've seen with a lot of celebrities unfortunately...[is that] conspiracy theories have overwhelmed their story and their truth," says Dr. Jen.  

Specifically, Dr. Jen points out that Damar suffered cardiac arrest and not a heart attack — despite what some headlines may say.  

"These are two things that are often confused. We know that Damar Hamlin, as an example, suffered a cardiac arrest, but a lot of people think cardiac arrest and a heart attack are the same, but they're not," Dr. Jen says.  

Cardiac Arrest vs. Heart Attack 

Dr. Jen explains that while people often use these terms interchangeably, they are different health events. 

"A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart. This is a circulation issue. It's an issue where oxygen and blood supply doesn't get to a section of the heart that it's supposed to get to," she says.  

"A cardiac arrest, on the other hand, is when the heart's electrical system malfunctions and the heart stops beating suddenly. So, this is an electrical problem," Dr. Jen adds. 

"I think of it as a blood circulation problem versus an electricity problem," Dr. Jen clarifies.   

Damar Hamlin’s Collapse Sparks Conversation Around CPR Certification  

In addition to giving "so many people hope" with his "bright light," Dr. Jen says Damar’s remarkable story encourages others "to learn CPR and to understand heart health." 
"Getting certified to perform CPR is so important because it can literally save a life. And it's easier than ever in a way because it's now recommended to do hands-only CPR," Dr. Jen says.  

However, Dr. Jen urges one to have precaution before attempting a life-saving maneuver. 

"If you see someone going down, so to speak, make sure the scene is safe, but call 9-1-1 or have someone else do it and then literally it's about pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of a familiar song that has about 100 to 120 beats per minute like ‘Stayin' Alive’ by the Bee Gees," she explains.  

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