Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac Arrest

Overview

When the heart stops beating suddenly, the condition is called a cardiac arrest. It is important to note that a cardiac arrest and a heart attack are not the same. A cardiac arrest is caused by a problem in the electrical impulses generated by the heart whereas a heart attack is a blockage in the blood flow to the heart. A heart attack can result in a cardiac arrest.

Signs and Symptoms

Cardiac arrest can have a sudden onset. The person will collapse without warning and no pulse or breathing will be recorded. He/she will also lose consciousness. Sometimes the following signs and symptoms may precede it:

  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the chest
  • Increased heart rate

Causes and Risk Factors

When the electrical impulses are not generated properly by the heart, an arrhythmia will result. While most arrhythmias, or abnormal heart beat, will not cause any harm, in some cases a cardiac arrest might result. Usually, an arrhythmia in the left ventricle of the heart causes a cardiac arrest. Rarely, a cardiac arrest will happen in a person with no history of heart disease. In most cases, one of the following conditions will be present:

  • The arterial walls will be blocked by plaque resulting in a condition called coronary artery disease.
  • Thickened heart walls called cardiomyopathy.
  • Damaged heart valves called heart valve disease.
  • Heart defect since birth. Adults who have had corrective surgery for the same are also at risk.
  • Long QT syndrome that causes rapid heartbeat. Might lead to fainting spells.
  • A heart attack which can cause a cardiac arrest.

Risk Factors include:

  • Hypertension
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Being overweight or obese
  • An unhealthy lifestyle

Complications

A cardiac arrest can prove fatal if emergency treatment is not administered. This is because when the heart stops beating, blood flow to the different parts of the body, including the brain, stops. The brain when deprived of blood will be damaged. If the heart does not start beating again, the person will die.

Diagnosis

After emergency treatment (CPR) has been given, the doctor might do the following tests:

  • An ECG to check if there is an arrhythmia
  • A blood test to check the levels of various chemicals
  • A chest x-ray to check for heart failure
  • An echo to check on heart valves and to see if there is any damage to the heart
  • Testing for blocks in the artery using a procedure called coronary catheterization

Surgery/Treatment

Emergency treatments include CPR and defibrillation. During CPR, compressions are applied to the heart to keep up the continuity of blood supply to the body parts. Defibrillation is the application of an electric shock to the heart to help it return to its normal rhythm.

Once the patient has been stabilized, further investigations will be done. The exact cause of the cardiac arrest will be determined and treatment rendered accordingly. The following surgeries might be done depending on the cause of the cardiac arrest.

  • An angioplasty to remove any blocks in the heart arteries.
  • A bypass surgery to bypass blocked arteries.
  • Blocking the path of an abnormal electrical impulse by radiofrequency catheter ablation.

Prevention

  • Living a healthy life – eating nutritious food and exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Maintaining correct body weight

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