Cardiac arrest is a very serious heart condition. It is characterized by the sudden stop of the heart. The heartbeat is controlled by electrical impulses. In a condition known as arrhythmia, the electrical impulse fluctuates, causing heartbeats to be irregular. Some arrhythmias are slow, while others occur fast. Cardiac arrest occurs when the rhythmic electrical impulse stops, causing the heart to stop beating. 

Reports show that more than half a million people experience cardiac arrest in the United States. 

What causes cardiac arrest?

There are several causes of cardiac arrest, out of which two are most common. These two are ventricular and atrial fibrillation.

Ventricular fibrillation

The human heart is divided into four chambers. The two lower chambers of the heart are called the ventricles. Ventricular fibrillation occurs when the left and right ventricle move in an unrhythmic manner. This causes a sudden change in the heart’s rhythm. As a result, the ventricles are unable to pump blood efficiently, causing a drastic decrease in the amount of blood pumped through the body. In more severe cases, the circulation of blood around the heart and the whole body stops completely. This may lead to cardiac death. Ventricular fibrillation is the most frequent cause of cardiac arrest.

Atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is quite similar to ventricular fibrillation. In atrial fibrillation, the heart’s two upper chambers, known as atriums, don’t pump blood efficiently. This condition begins when the sinoatrial node (SA node) doesn’t send out the right electrical impulses. The sinoatrial node is situated in the right atrium, and it dictates how fast the heart pumps blood. 

What are the risk factors of cardiac arrest?

Coronary heart disease: This heart disease occurs as a result of a malfunction in the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are tasked with the supply of blood to the heart muscles. Due to some reasons, these arteries may get blocked or may break, causing a lack of blood flow in the heart muscles. This blood deficit causes the heart to stop working properly. 

Large heart: One of the few scenarios where “the bigger, the better” doesn’t fit is having a large heart. Some people are born with an abnormally large heart which places them at an increased risk for cardiac arrest. A heart larger than average is unable to beat correctly. This abnormality is capable of causing cardiac arrest. 

Irregular heart valves: Valve disease is capable of making the heart valves leaky or narrower. This means that the amount of blood that gets to each chamber is too much or too little, causing the chambers to expand or become weakened. 

Congenital heart disease: Cardiac arrest easily affects those born with heart damages. 

Electrical impulse problems: Also known as primary heart rhythm abnormalities. Having issues with the heart’s electrical impulses increases the risk of developing cardiac arrest. 

These are some of the common risk factors of cardiac arrest. Other factors are:

  • Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke 
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Atherosclerosis 
  • High blood pressure
  • Sedentary or inactive lifestyle
  • Substance abuse
  • Insufficient amount of potassium or magnesium. 

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Early symptoms of cardiac arrest are serious warning signs that shouldn’t be overlooked. Getting the right treatment before the heart stops is enough to give a fighting chance. Such symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue or sudden weakness
  • Nauseated and vomiting 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling faint
  • Loss of consciousness 
  • Chest pain 
  • No pulse

Immediate healthcare is necessary once these symptoms begin to appear. In some cases, cardiac arrest may not display any symptoms before it occurs. Once you feel any of these symptoms or notice it on someone else, waste no time in calling for help. 

However, when help doesn’t get there in time, you can try performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a life-saving technique. This technique aims to keep oxygen flowing through a patient’s body whose heart and breathing have stopped. CPR involves external chest compression and rescue breathing which can be performed by any trained person. CPR performed within the first six minutes of the patient’s heart-stopping can keep him alive till professional help arrives. 

How to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

For adults, place the heel of your hands in the center of the chest, right between the nipples. Place your other hand on top of the first and interlock fingers, so the fingers of the first are drawn up with heels remaining at the center of the chest. For children 1-8, use only one hand. For infants, place two fingers at the center of the chest, a little below the nipple line.

To start the compressions, use your upper body to push down your hands at least 2 inches into the patient’s chest at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. For ages 1-8, push down your hand about 2 inches into the chest at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. For infants, push your finger about one and a half inches at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. (Allow their chest to recoil between compressions in each case)

Continue compressions at this rate till the person starts to breathe or help arrives. 

Note: these steps as they might save a life. 


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