MediFind
Condition

Cardiac Arrest

Symptoms, Doctors, Treatments, Research & More

Condition 101

What is the definition of Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. When this happens, blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body also stops. Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If it is not treated within a few minutes, cardiac arrest most often causes death.

What are the alternative names for Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest; SCA; Cardiopulmonary arrest; Circulatory arrest; Arrhythmia - cardiac arrest; Fibrillation - cardiac arrest; Heart block - cardiac arrest

What are the causes for Cardiac Arrest?

While some people refer to a heart attack as a cardiac arrest, they are not the same thing. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery stops the flow of blood to the heart. A heart attack can damage the heart, but it does not necessarily cause death. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger a cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest is caused by a problem with the heart's electrical system, such as:

  • Ventricular fibrillation (VF) -- When VF occurs, the lower chambers in the heart quiver instead of beating regularly. The heart cannot pump blood, which results in cardiac arrest. This can happen without any cause or as a result of another condition.
  • Heart block -- This occurs when the electrical signal is slowed or stopped as it moves through the heart.

Problems that may lead to cardiac arrest include:

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD) -- CHD can clog the arteries in your heart, so the blood cannot flow smoothly. Over time, this can put a strain on your heart's muscle and electrical system.
  • Heart attack -- A prior heart attack can create scar tissue that can lead to VF and cardiac arrest.
  • Heart problems, such as congenital heart disease, heart valve problems, heart rhythm problems, and an enlarged heart can also lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Abnormal levels of potassium or magnesium -- These minerals help your heart's electrical system work. Abnormally high or low levels can cause cardiac arrest.
  • Severe physical stress -- Anything that causes a severe stress on your body can lead to cardiac arrest. This can include trauma, electrical shock, or major blood loss.
  • Recreational drugs -- Using certain drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, also increases your risk for cardiac arrest.
  • Medicines -- Some medicines can increase the likelihood of abnormal heart rhythms.

What are the symptoms for Cardiac Arrest?

Most people DO NOT have any symptoms of cardiac arrest until it happens. Symptoms may include:

  • Sudden loss of consciousness; a person will fall to the floor or slump down if sitting
  • No pulse
  • No breathing

In some cases, you may notice some symptoms about an hour before cardiac arrest. These may include:

  • A racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Chest pain

What are the current treatments for Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest needs emergency treatment right away to get the heart started again.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) -- This is often the first type of treatment for cardiac arrest. It can be done by anyone who has been trained in CPR. It can help keep oxygen flowing in the body until emergency care arrives.
  • Defibrillation -- This is the most important treatment for cardiac arrest. It is performed using a medical device that gives an electrical shock to the heart. The shock can get the heart beating normally again. Small, portable defibrillators are often available in public areas for emergency use by people trained to use them. This treatment works best when given within a few minutes.

If you survive cardiac arrest, you will be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Depending on what caused your cardiac arrest, you may need other medicines, procedures, or surgery.

You may have a small device, called an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) placed under your skin near your chest. An ICD monitors your heartbeat and gives your heart an electric shock if it detects an abnormal heart rhythm.

What is the outlook (prognosis) for Cardiac Arrest?

Most people DO NOT survive cardiac arrest. If you have had a cardiac arrest, you are at high risk of having another. You will need to work closely with your doctors to reduce your risk.

What are the possible complications for Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest can cause some lasting health problems including:

  • Brain injury
  • Heart problems
  • Lung conditions
  • Infection

You may need ongoing care and treatment to manage some of these complications.

When should I contact a medical professional for Cardiac Arrest?

Call your provider or 911 right away if you have:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath

How do I prevent Cardiac Arrest?

The best way to protect yourself from cardiac arrest is to keep your heart healthy. If you have CHD or another heart condition, ask your provider how to reduce your risk for cardiac arrest.

REFERENCES

Myerburg RJ. Approach to cardiac arrest and life-threatening arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 63.

Myerburg RJ, Goldberger JJ. Cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death. In: Zipes DP, Libby P, Bonow RO, Mann DL, Tomaselli GF, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 42.

Latest Research

Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Chronic Limb Threatening Ischemia
  • Journal: Vascular
  • Treatment Used: Balloon Angioplasty with or without Atherectomy
  • Number of Patients: 3414
  • Published —
This study compared the clinical outcome of using a balloon angioplasty with or without atherectomy to treat patients with chronic limb threatening ischemia.
Latest Advance
Study
  • Condition: Acute Pulmonary Embolism
  • Journal: Journal of cardiothoracic surgery
  • Treatment Used: Veno-arterial Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation
  • Number of Patients: 21
  • Published —
In this study, researchers evaluated the outcomes of treating acute pulmonary embolisms with veno-arterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

Clinical Trials

Clinical Trial
Drug
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Drug
  • Participants: 191
  • Start Date: December 2021
Arterial Pressure and Stress-Dose Steroids in In-hospital Cardiac Arrest: a Mediation Analysis of Prior Randomized Clinical Trial Data.
Clinical Trial
Device
  • Status: Not yet recruiting
  • Study Type: Device
  • Participants: 80
  • Start Date: June 2021
Prehospital Cooling of Comatose Patients After Cardiac Arrest With a Non-invasive, Unpowered Core Body Cooling Device (CAERVest Prehospital Cooling)