What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart beat. This is an extremely serious health issue.
The heart has an internal electrical system that controls the rhythm of the heartbeat. Problems can cause abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmia. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or it can stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart develops an arrhythmia that causes it to stop beating. This serious heart condition is different from heart attack. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) refers to the death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply; meanwhile, cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. In cardiac arrest, death results when the heart suddenly stops working properly. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to the sudden cardiac arrest.
The condition can cause death or disability. When the heart stops, the lack of oxygenated blood can cause brain damage in only a few minutes. Death or permanent brain damage can occur within four to six minutes. Time is critical when you’re helping an unconscious person who isn’t breathing. If you or someone you’re with is experiencing symptoms of cardiac arrest, seek emergency health assistance immediately.
How common is cardiac arrest?
This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It commonly affects more males than females. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of cardiac arrest?
The common symptoms of cardiac arrest are:
- Sudden collapse;
- No pulse;
- No breathing;
- Loss of consciousness;
- Chest pain;
- Shortness of breath.
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have:
- Frequently repeated chest pain;
- Heart palpitations;
- Irregular or rapid heartbeats;
- Unexplained wheezing or shortness of breath;
- Fainting or near fainting;
- Lightheaded or dizzy.
What causes cardiac arrest?
There are many factors which can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Two of the most common are ventricular and atrial fibrillation.
Your heart has four chambers. The two lower chambers are the ventricles and the upper ones are atrial. In ventricular fibrillation, these chambers quiver out of control. This causes the heart’s rhythm to change dramatically. The ventricles begin to pump inefficiently, which severely decreases the amount of blood pumped through the body. In some cases, the circulation of blood stops completely. This may lead to sudden cardiac death.
In ventricular fibrillation, the sinoatrial (SA) node doesn’t send out the correct electrical impulses. Your SA node is located in the right chamber. It regulates how quickly the heart pumps blood. When the electrical impulse goes into atrial fibrillation, the ventricles can’t pump blood out to the body efficiently.
What increases my risk for cardiac arrest?
There are many risk factors for cardiac arrest, such as:
- A family history of coronary artery disease;
- High blood pressure;
- High blood cholesterol;
- Unphysical lifestyle;
- Drinking too much alcohol (more than two drinks a day);
Other factors that may increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest include:
- A previous episode of cardiac arrest or a family history of cardiac arrest;
- A previous heart attack;
- A personal or family history of other forms of heart disease, such as heart rhythm disorders, congenital heart defects, heart failure and cardiomyopathy;
- Over 45 for men, or over 55 for women;
- Using illegal drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines;
- Nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is cardiac arrest diagnosed?
Your doctor will most likely perform a test called an electrocardiogram to identify the type of abnormal rhythm that your heart is experiencing. To treat the condition, your doctor will likely use a defibrillator to shock your heart. An electric shock can often return the heart to a normal rhythm.
Other tests can also be used after you have experienced a cardiac event:
- Blood tests can be used to look for signs of a heart attack. They can also measure potassium and magnesium levels.
- Chest X-ray can look for other signs of disease in the heart.
- Echocardiogram can help identify whether an area of your heart has been damaged by a heart attack and isn’t pumping normally or at peak capacity (ejection fraction) or whether there are valvular abnormalities.
- Nuclear scan. This test, usually done along with a stress test, helps identify blood flow problems to your heart.
How is cardiac arrest treated?
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation are one of the treatments for the emergency situation.
If you survive a cardiac arrest, your doctor may start with one or more treatments to reduce the risk of another attack.
- Medication can lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Surgery can repair damaged blood vessels or heart valves. It can also bypass or remove blockages in the arteries.
- Exercise may improve cardiovascular fitness.
- Dietary changes can help you lower cholesterol.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cardiac arrest?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with cardiac arrest:
- Don’t smoke;
- Use alcohol no more than one to two drinks a day;
- Eat a nutritious, balanced diet;
- Stay physically active.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: November 2, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
Cardiac Arrest. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/CardiacArrest/About-Cardiac-Arrest_UCM_307905_Article.jsp#.V_B9Q_B95aQ. Accessed October 02, 2016.
Cardiac Arrest. http://www.healthline.com/health/cardiac-arrest#Treatment6. Accessed October 02, 2016.
Sudden Cardiac Arest.http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-cardiac-arrest/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20164901. Accessed October 02, 2016.