[Continued from here]
More about the cardiac arrest business.
When I say it's silly to say someone "died of cardiac arrest", I am not saying that it's *wrong* - in fact it's absolutely true that a lot of people die when their heart stops. What I am saying instead is that calling cardiac arrest "the cause of death" is quite meaningless. It's almost like asking "Why was TDM hospitalised?" only to hear the answer of "The doctor asked him to stay". Absolutely accurate, but absolutely not answering the question too. I want to hear what illness he had that made him stay in the hospital; not whether the doctor, the surgeon or the physiotherapist asked him to.
It's technically correct to say someone died of stopping of the heart, but we shouldn't call it "THE cause of death" without knowing what caused the heart to stop in the first place. Cardiac arrest, or "the stopping of the heart", can be due to thousands of reasons.
- Being immersed under the arctic ice cap for one hour.
- Being electrocuted.
- Dumping shit load of potassium ion into one's circulation.
- Being born with a heart with screwed-up wiring.
- Being born with thickening of certain parts of the heart (how many young athletes have sudden death).
- Getting overdosed on drugs (which is currently one of the top hypothesis in MJ's case because he has been getting opioids from his doctor).
- Having a massive heart attack.
- Having a sick heart from a previous heart attack.
- Having a huge clot in the pulmonary aorta.
- And the list goes on.
In fact, almost any disease process or injury would kill you by stopping the heart in the end, with the exception of brain death due to brain injury. In brain death, even though their heart might still be beating, we also consider them dead because there is no longer a person in that body.
What about calling it a heart attack, some might say. THIS is another peeve of mine in the whole media report. Yesterday all the Fairfax newspapers in Australia reported that MJ has died from a heart attack when the official sources said NOTHING about a heart attack. It appeared to me that the Fairfax journalists have equated a cardiac arrest with a heart attack, which is to me as atrocious as equating bacteria to virus.
And NOW you see why I am so worked up.
Heart attack is a specific entity, and we say someone's got heart attack when his coronary arteries (which are the arteries that supply the heart itself) got blocked off by clots. Heart attack can cause death, and when someone dies in a heart attack they often die via cardiac arrest (i.e. when their heart finally stops). But in the process a lot of things could happen, their heart wiring may run amok, their heart walls may rupture, their heart will beat out of synchrony. And so on. And all that could be the precipitant for the eventual cardiac arrest.
In MJ's case, the current official word is cardiac arrest, and no official word has said he's got a heart attack. But I can see that some Australian media has automatically translated cardiac arrest to heart attack, which is quite misleading. In the early hours BBC also used the word "heart failure", which was also another term with a specific meaning in medicine.
It's probably the public health educator's fault that many people are unable to tell the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest. The difference might not be that crucial for laymen, you might argue, and you are probably right. However, in the case of journalism, I don't think it's acceptable for a journalist to substitute "cardiac arrest" with "heart attack" without any verification and disseminate the information to millions of people. This is a count of irresponsibility.