What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is a malfunction of the heart's rhythm, or electrical system, which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. It differs from heart attack which is caused by a blockage that prevents blood circulating to the heart.
Possible causes of cardiac arrest include coronary heart disease and physical stress.
If not treated within minutes, loss of heart function results in death.
What are the symptoms?
While cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning, there are sometimes symptoms that can indicate a problem with the heart's rhythm. These symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
What treatment options are available?
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)
About 92 percent of people who have a cardiac arrest die before they reach the hospital – but having someone nearby who knows CPR doubles or even triples their chances of surviving.
Because bystanders are often reluctant to assist with CPR for fear of doing it wrong or making the situation worse, the American Heart Association is promoting hands-only CPR. The technique consists of two steps: call 911, then push hard and fast in the center of the victim's chest, aiming for about 100 compressions a minute (for example, about as fast as the beat of the classic disco song "Staying Alive"). Hands-only CPR can help a victim survive three to five minutes longer – possibly enough time until emergency medical services arrive.
Both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association provide excellent training programs in CPR. Ask your doctor or health care provider for more information on becoming trained in CPR.
Defibrillation is necessary when a heart begins to beat so fast that very little blood can be pumped out to the body. An automated external defibrillator (AED) uses an electric shock to help the heart return to its normal rhythm of contraction. Found in public places such as schools, airports, malls and sports arenas, trained emergency personnel — or almost anyone else who has undergone training — can attach an AED to a cardiac arrest victim, who may need a jolt of electricity to the heart.
During cardiac arrest, when organs are deprived of oxygen, cooling the patient's core temperature is essential to preventing damage to the brain, tissue and other organs. Therapeutic Hypothermia is an innovative process of cooling patients after cardiac arrest and then slowly and accurately re-warming the body after life-saving treatment. This technology allows cardiologists to regulate body temperature to a degree of precision never seen before.