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What IS the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

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What IS the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

It’s easy to get confused by medical jargon, especially when phrases can sound so similar.

But often they can mean entirely different things.

For example, ‘incidence’ and ‘prevalence’ — mainstays of our vocabulary during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic — cannot be used interchangeably.

Here, the Mail’s health team have cut through all the complex science to explain the difference between terms that all too often get mixed up.

It’s easy to get confused by medical jargon, especially when phrases can sound so similar. But often they can mean entirely different things. For example, ‘incidence’ and ‘prevalence’ — mainstays of our vocabulary during the darkest days of the Covid pandemic — cannot be used interchangeably

Strain vs sprain

If you overstretch and tear your muscle or tendon — the fibrous tissue that joins muscle to the bone, this is called a strain.

As well as ripping the muscle and tendon fibres, sometimes the tiny blood vessels inside the muscle also break, which can cause internal bleeding, pain and occasionally bruising.

A sprain is the term for when you stretch a ligament — the strong band of tissue that attaches bone to bone, such as in a joint. 

This leads to swelling of the tissue around the joint, and sometimes in the surrounding muscles, due to the rush of white blood cells which try to tackle inflammation in the area.

Strains and sprains can both be caused by sudden movements, such as a fall, or by exercise. 

Sprains tend to take longer to heal but, like strains, will usually heal of their own accord.

'Fortified' means extra vitamins or minerals that were not originally there have been added to a food such as milk, which, in some countries, has vitamin D added to boost the absorption of calcium

‘Fortified’ means extra vitamins or minerals that were not originally there have been added to a food such as milk, which, in some countries, has vitamin D added to boost the absorption of calcium

Enriched vs fortified

Sometimes, during the manufacturing process, the nutrients in food are lost so some companies will add vitamins and minerals back in afterwards.

These foods are then described as ‘enriched’ on the nutrition label for instance, cereals are often enriched with iron.

‘Fortified’, meanwhile, means extra vitamins or minerals that were not originally there have been added to a food such as milk, which, in some countries, has vitamin D added to boost the absorption of calcium.

'Cardiac' comes from the Greek word kardiakos, meaning 'pertaining to the heart'. 'Cardiac arrest' was first used as a medical term in the 1950s (stock)

‘Cardiac’ comes from the Greek word kardiakos, meaning ‘pertaining to the heart’. ‘Cardiac arrest’ was first used as a medical term in the 1950s (stock)

A 13-question survey tested fairgoers in Minnesota on their knowledge of medical jargon terms often used by clinicians

A 13-question survey tested fairgoers in Minnesota on their knowledge of medical jargon terms often used by clinicians

Medical jargon putting patients in harm’s way

Patients are struggling to understand their doctors because of confusing medical jargon, a study has found.

Almost 80 percent of people do not know that the word ‘impressive’ actually means ‘worrying’ in a medical context.

Critics said using the word borders on ‘disrespectful’ because ‘we’re describing something as impressive that is causing real harm for patients’.

More than one in five percent of respondents could not work out the phrase ‘your tumor is progressing’, which means a patient’s cancer is worsening.

And the majority of participants failed to recognize that ‘positive lymph nodes’ meant the cancer had spread.

The researchers said future research should test alternative words to avoid miscommunications. It comes after woke doctors urged health professions to avoid using the term ‘morbidly’ when describing the fattest category of people.

Cardiac arrest vs heart attack

‘Cardiac’ comes from the Greek word kardiakos, meaning ‘pertaining to the heart’. 

‘Cardiac arrest’ was first used as a medical term in the 1950s. 

It is sometimes incorrectly used interchangeably with the phrase ‘heart attack’. 

Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping (it may quiver or flutter instead) due to an electrical malfunction. 

It can be triggered by a heart condition, choking, electric shocks, or losing a lot of blood. 

If the heart cannot pump blood in a normal way, then the body is starved of oxygen and this can result in a loss of consciousness and even death if not treated quickly.

A heart attack, meanwhile, is where cardiac tissue dies due to a lack of oxygen-rich blood. 

This can be due to narrowed arteries and a clot. 

The signs of a heart attack can be immediate, but more commonly it is a slow onset of symptoms persisting from hours to days: chest pain, light-headedness and shortness of breath are all warning signs. This can lead to cardiac arrest, but not always.

Psychotherapist vs psychologist vs psychiatrist

‘Psychology’, from the Greek words psukhe, meaning ‘breath, soul, mind’, and logos, the study of a subject, is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions. 

Various professions in this field sound similar but, in fact, cover different roles.

The term psychotherapist can encompass professionals who treat emotional or behavioural issues.

A degree or qualification is not necessarily needed to practise. For instance, social workers and trauma experts can carry the title.

The term psychotherapist can encompass professionals who treat emotional or behavioural issues

The term psychotherapist can encompass professionals who treat emotional or behavioural issues

They can offer assistance in improving an overall sense of wellbeing with such treatments as art therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy.

A psychologist, who can use these methods, among others, needs a degree or licence in the science of psychology (typically from a university) before offering professional advice.

Psychiatrists are doctors with medical degrees and, unlike psychologists, can prescribe psychotropic medication that can alter state of mind.

Active surveillance vs watchful waiting

Active surveillance is offered to patients with slow-growing cancer that is confined to the prostate. It usually involves more regular hospital tests (for prostate biopsies and MRI scans) than watchful waiting

Active surveillance is offered to patients with slow-growing cancer that is confined to the prostate. It usually involves more regular hospital tests (for prostate biopsies and MRI scans) than watchful waiting

These are methods of monitoring prostate cancer to see if the condition changes or grows in order to avoid unnecessary treatment.

The terms may be used interchangeably, but there are differences. 

Active surveillance is offered to patients with slow-growing cancer that is confined to the prostate. 

It usually involves more regular hospital tests (for prostate biopsies and MRI scans) than watchful waiting. 

Patients offered watchful waiting may also have cancer confined to the prostate, but they tend to be older or have other health problems that would make them less able to cope with surgery, radiotherapy or intrusive tests, says John Robertson, a specialist nurse at Prostate Cancer UK.

If the cancer starts to grow, they are more likely to be offered hormone therapy. 

Watchful waiting patients generally have fewer tests, which usually take place at their GP surgery.

False negative vs false positive

When a test result is positive and tells a person they have a certain condition when, in fact, they don't, the result is called a false positive

When a test result is positive and tells a person they have a certain condition when, in fact, they don’t, the result is called a false positive

These terms refer to medical test results, such as for cancer or pregnancy, where the result is incorrect.

When a test result is positive and tells a person they have a certain condition when, in fact, they don’t, the result is called a false positive.

When a test result tells a person they don’t have the condition they are being tested for when, in fact, they do, this is a false negative. 

Both can adversely affect health.

A false positive PSA test for prostate cancer, for example, can mean a man gets potentially harmful treatments and other tests, while a false negative could make him think he was well.

These false results are more common with self-test kits, which are likely to be less accurate than in-hospital diagnosis or lab assessments, according to medical experts. 

But mammograms for breast cancer have been known to detect potential cancer masses incorrectly, too. 

Taking multiple tests for a particular condition and spacing them apart can improve the reliability of results.

Incidence vs prevalence

Incidence is the number of new cases over a particular time frame ¿ it shows how quickly people are going from being healthy to having a disease. Prevalence includes new and existing cases, providing an overall figure for the proportion of people affected by a particular disease at a specific time

Incidence is the number of new cases over a particular time frame — it shows how quickly people are going from being healthy to having a disease. Prevalence includes new and existing cases, providing an overall figure for the proportion of people affected by a particular disease at a specific time

These terms — which became household phrases during the Covid pandemic — are sometimes used intechangeably, but are very different ways to measure the extent of a disease.

Incidence is the number of new cases over a particular time frame — it shows how quickly people are going from being healthy to having a disease.

Prevalence includes new and existing cases, providing an overall figure for the proportion of people affected by a particular disease at a specific time.

The analogy of a bathtub filling with water is often given to better explain the relationship between the two terms.

Incidence is the rate at which the water coming out of the tap is flowing into the bath, while prevalence is the amount of the water in the tub.

While prevalence helps identify if a disease is a public health issue to be addressed, incidence is arguably more useful, as it can inform experts about an outbreak, so helps with planning health services.

Ischaemic vs haemorrhagic

Both terms are used to describe a stroke, but involve different processes.

The word ‘ischaemic’ is derived from the Greek ‘iskhaimos’ — stopping blood. 

With any kind of ischaemia, body tissue is starved of oxygen due to restricted blood flow.

In the case of an ischaemic stroke, the brain is starved of blood as a result of a blockage, typically because of fatty deposits blocking the large arteries, or less often, because of a blood clot that forms in the heart and then travels to the brain. 

‘Ischaemic heart disease’, also known as coronary heart disease, is where the blood vessels become narrowed, restricting blood flow to the heart.

With a haemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel that’s already been weakened bursts — so the damage is then caused by bleeding on the person’s brain.

Intrinsic vs extrinsic sugars

A recent Government report recommended that the term 'extrinsic' sugars be replaced by 'free sugars'. The new definition would be expanded to include not only all added sugar, but also natural sugar in honey and unsweetened fruit juice, as these may be just as detrimental to health

A recent Government report recommended that the term ‘extrinsic’ sugars be replaced by ‘free sugars’. The new definition would be expanded to include not only all added sugar, but also natural sugar in honey and unsweetened fruit juice, as these may be just as detrimental to health

These two terms refer to the sugars found in food. 

‘Intrinsic’ sugars occur naturally in, for example, fruit and vegetables; ‘extrinsic’ sugars are added by manufacturers to enhance taste. 

But both will have an adverse effect on dental health, as they can be broken down by bacteria in the mouth, contributing to tooth decay.

A recent Government report recommended that the term ‘extrinsic’ sugars be replaced by ‘free sugars’.

The new definition would be expanded to include not only all added sugar, but also natural sugar in honey and unsweetened fruit juice, as these may be just as detrimental to health.

Morbidity vs mortality

The word 'morbidity' is used to indicate the kind of disease that interferes with normal life ¿ for example, the term 'morbidly obese' refers to someone with a BMI over 40 whose weight damages their health and quality of life

The word ‘morbidity’ is used to indicate the kind of disease that interferes with normal life — for example, the term ‘morbidly obese’ refers to someone with a BMI over 40 whose weight damages their health and quality of life

The two words share a Latin root (mori — to die) but they have quite different meanings.

The word ‘morbidity’ is used to indicate the kind of disease that interferes with normal life — for example, the term ‘morbidly obese’ refers to someone with a BMI over 40 whose weight damages their health and quality of life.

The term is used to indicate just how badly someone may be affected by a medical condition.

It can be applied to a wide spectrum of illnesses, from such major diseases as Alzheimer’s to the comparatively minor skin condition psoriasis.

‘Mortality’ refers specifically to death, whatever the cause may be, and is most often used as a statistical term to describe the number of deaths which are caused by any one disease or illness.

Contagious vs infectious

When the disease is spread easily from person to person through ordinary social contact, such as touching, kissing or being sneezed on, it is said to be 'contagious'

When the disease is spread easily from person to person through ordinary social contact, such as touching, kissing or being sneezed on, it is said to be ‘contagious’

‘Infectious’ describes a disease caused by micro-organisms, such as bacteria or viruses, that get into the body and cause problems.

When the disease is spread easily from person to person through ordinary social contact, such as touching, kissing or being sneezed on, it is said to be ‘contagious’.

But some diseases are infectious without being contagious, because they are spread by other means, such as through contaminated water and food. 

The contagiousness of a disease is measured by its basic reproduction number, which is the number of people likely to be infected by one person with the virus. 

For instance, the basic reproduction number for measles is 17 — 17 people can be infected by just one person.

Urethra vs ureter

These are both tubes used to transport urine — but in different places.

The ureters are the first to deal with urine. 

We have two ureters, each connecting a kidney (where urine is produced as waste products are filtered from blood) to the bladder. 

The ureters run from just below your rib cage down into the pelvis.

The urethra, meanwhile, is a single tube that carries urine out of the body when you go to the loo. 

Women have a much shorter urethra — about an inch and a half long compared with eight inches in men. 

This is why women are more prone to infections such as cystitis because bacteria don’t have as far to travel to the bladder. A man’s urethra runs the length of the penis as well as a little way inside the pelvis, so bacteria are much less likely to cause problems.

The words both come from the Greek ourein, to urinate.

Vaccination vs immunisation vs inoculation

Immunisation is the natural process by which we become immune to a disease ¿ a type of white blood cell is designed to remember illnesses we've encountered. Vaccination and inoculation are medical methods that prompt immunisation

Immunisation is the natural process by which we become immune to a disease — a type of white blood cell is designed to remember illnesses we’ve encountered. Vaccination and inoculation are medical methods that prompt immunisation

Often used interchangeably, these terms are actually different, although they do all refer to the protection against disease that occurs by provoking a reaction from our immune system.

Immunisation is the natural process by which we become immune to a disease — a type of white blood cell is designed to remember illnesses we’ve encountered. 

Vaccination and inoculation are medical methods that prompt immunisation. 

Inoculation was a primitive type of vaccine widely used in Europe in the 1700s to prevent smallpox. It involved taking infected skin or a scab from someone with smallpox and exposing a healthy person to it to trigger a low-level, protective infection.

Vaccination introduces a safe level of a disease, planting an immune system memory without triggering illness, as inoculation tended to. The first was used by physician Edward Jenner in 1796.

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