Cardiac arrest

What is cardiac arrest?

The heart suddenly stops beating.

experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year in Canada 
1 in 10
 survive cardiac arrests that happen at home or public places
survival doubles with immediate action.
Seth in a wheelchair with his siblings beside him.
Seth in a wheelchair with his siblings beside him.
When emergency struck, the school was ready

After CPR helped save Seth, classmates rallied in his honour

Read Seth's story

Signs of cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest happens suddenly. There are usually no warning signs.

  1. Sudden collapse

  2. Unresponsive to touch or sound

  3. Not breathing or is making gasping sounds

When the heart stops beating, blood is not circulating. Brain death can begin in as little as three minutes.

 Your immediate action can double the chance of surviving. 

How to save a life in 90 seconds 

Do you have a couple of minutes? That's enough to learn the basics of CPR and how to use an AED. Watch our short videos below.

You are the person's best chance. Have the courage to act quickly.

Don’t wait for EMS to arrive – they may be several minutes away.


Don’t wait for someone else to step in. Seconds matter. Start immediately.
 Doing CPR – even if it is not perfect – gives the person their best chance.

Who is at risk?

Cardiac arrest can occur:
- at any age
- at any time
- to people of all fitness levels
- without warning.


The difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack

Cardiac arrest and  heart attack are not the same thing, although people often confuse the terms. Both are medical emergencies.

What is it?

Cardiac arrest

Heart attack

The heart has stopped pumping

The heart is not getting enough blood so it starts to die

Caused by an abnormal heart rhythm

Caused by a blockage of blood flow to the heart

The heart cannot pump blood to the rest of the body

The heart continues to pump blood

It is a medical emergency

It is a medical emergency

Death occurs in minutes without immediate action.

Damage to the heart increases with every minute of treatment delay.



What does it look like?

Cardiac arrest

Heart attack

Sudden collapse

Person is generally conscious.

Unresponsive to touch or sound

Signs include:
Chest or upper body discomfort, sweating nausea, shortness of breath, and light-headedness.

Not breathing or making gasping sounds.



What to do?

Cardiac arrest

Heart attack

Call 9-1-1 and shout for a defibrillator

Call 9-1-1

Start CPR

Stop all activity. Sit or lie down

Use a defibrillator as soon as it arrives

Take your nitroglycerin

Don't hesitate. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

Chew ASA (Aspirin) (one 325 mg or two 81 mg tablets).

Rest and wait.


A heart attack can turn into cardiac arrest if it is severe enough


Heart & Stroke is working to save lives with faster, better emergency response and treatment for stroke and cardiac arrest