Cardiac arrest

A cardiac arrest can best be described as a sudden and abrupt loss of heart function. This can occur in a person whether or not they have been diagnosed with heart disease however if this occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, it is called sudden cardiac arrest. Unfortunately many people have been prone to sudden deaths which will typically occur within just a few short minutes after the symptoms originally appear. There are numerous reasons that a person may die suddenly from cardiac arrest, but the most common will be if the patient is suffering from coronary heart disease.

Sudden death that is caused by cardiac arrest will usually occur because the electrical impulses of the heart become extremely fast. This is known as ventricular tachycardia. If the electrical impulses become extremely chaotic, this is referred to as ventricular fibrillation. An arrhythmia or irregular heart rhythm will cause the heart to stop beating all of a sudden. Bradycardia is when a cardiac arrest occurs because the heart has slowed right down. There are numerous other factors apart from heart disease and heart attack that are known to cause cardiac arrest. These include choking, electrocution, respiratory arrest and trauma.

Within as little as 4 to 6 minutes after experiencing cardiac arrest both brain death and permanent death will begin. However cardiac arrest is reversible if it is treated within a few minutes. This is typically done by giving the patient an electric shock to the heart in order to restore a normal heartbeat. This process is referred to as defibrillation. Unfortunately for every minute that passes where a patient does not receive CPR and defibrillation, the chances of survival are reduced by 10%. You actually find that very few attempts to resuscitate a patient will be successful after a period of 10 minutes or more.

There are no official statistics that show the number of cardiac arrests that occur around the world every year, but it is estimated that in excess of 95% of people who suffer a cardiac arrest will die before they reach the hospital. If defibrillation can be provided to the victim within five to seven minutes, there is at 45% chance of survival. You actually find that the death rate is dramatically reduced in young people suffering from a cardiac arrest. However there have been numerous press reports over the years where young athletes have died due to cardiac arrest. The most common cause of death from cardiac arrest in younger people is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. This is where the walls of the ventricle are far larger than they should be and in most cases this type of heart disease is hereditary. Unfortunately this will make the pumping chamber of the heart far smaller than it needs to be and therefore the heart has to work a lot harder to pump blood around the body.

Death by cardiac arrest can be prevented and is most commonly associated with those who suffer from heart disease. Amongst the most at risk are males aged 40 years of age or over who either smoke, suffer from high blood pressure or diabetes. Another well-known risk is syncope, which is where a person will suffer from a loss of consciousness or fainting. Although there are many different reasons why someone may faint, the main concern will be that they have an abnormal heart rhythm. There is then always the fear that the next episode may cause cardiac arrest.

You will find that the frequency of sudden cardiac arrest is very much related to the actual frequency of coronary artery disease. In order to decrease the risk of sudden death, it is believed that many more public health initiatives need to be put into place. It makes a lot of sense that if the adult population is increasingly aware of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, the appropriate screening and actions can take place, thus lowering the risk of death.

Current statistics show that approximately 335,000 Americans die each year from a cardiac arrest. Doctors have issued a “chain of survival” that should be followed in order to provide the best chance of survival.

  • The first stage is to recognise the signs of either a heart attack or cardiac arrest
  • Immediately call 911 or the emergency services
  • CPR should be started immediately
  • The victim will need to be treated with an electrical defibrillator as soon as possible, although it is most typically done by paramedics
  • The victim should receive some form of advanced care, again usually from a paramedic, such as a fitted breathing tube. They should then be taken to hospital.

It is of paramount importance that this specific sequence of events is followed if you believe somebody suffering a cardiac arrest.

Last updated on Apr 9th, 2012 and filed under Cardiovascular Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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