Understanding Cardiac Arrest

Although many people believe a cardiac arrest and a heart attack are the same, they really are two different life-threatening medical emergencies that affect the heart.

During a heart attack, blood flow to part of the heart is blocked and that part of the heart muscle is damaged.

The heart may then beat with an abnormal rhythm, but the heart doesn’t necessarily stop beating altogether. In cardiac arrest, however, the heart does stop beating and the resulting loss of blood flow to the brain causes an immediate loss of consciousness.

Cardiac arrest happens suddenly and it must be treated immediately by emergency procedures or death will shortly follow. The following factors can make someone more prone to cardiac arrest:

  • poor physical conditioning and obesity;
  • smoking, especially heavy smoking for years;
  • poorly controlled high blood pressure;
  • and poorly controlled high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

The most common immediate cause of cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation, a severely abnormal heart rhythm. Abnormal heart rhythms may result from abnormal electrical pathways in the heart caused, in turn, by a previous heart attack, high blood pressure or hereditary defects. other conditions that can cause cardiac arrest include shock, including severe allergic reactions, severe respiratory problems, drowning, electrocution, the prolonged exposure to severe cold or abnormally high or low amounts of electrolytes such as potassium in the blood.

The symptoms of cardiac arrest include unconsciousness, absence of a curse and shallow or absent breathing.

Quick action is essential after cardiac arrest because brain damage can occur within four to six minutes. If the collapse occurs away from a hospital, emergency medical help should be called and cardiopulmonary resuscitation or CPR, should be started. To learn more about cardiac arrest, or to learn CPR, call your health-care provider, the Red Cross or the local chapter of the American Heart Association. Since the factors leading to cardiac arrest can all be controlled, it is important to seek advice early on.

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