Cardiac Arrest

An electrical problem that provokes your heart to stop beating is called cardiac arrest. Once your heart stops beating, a person may become unconscious. As a result, death may come in minutes. However, someone who experiences a cardiac arrest can survive if get immediate help.

What is Cardiac Arrest?

In case the heart stops beating or doing it so fast that stops pumping blood, a cardiac arrest occurs. Those who experience a cardiac arrest are commonly unresponsive. It is also called sudden cardiac arrest because it often happens without any symptoms. In case an individual does not get the treatment right away, this can be fatal.

This condition is fatal because the blood supplies oxygen to the body and when the heart stops beating, the oxygen supply is restricted to all tissues and organs.

Immediate treatment includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation. These procedures can save your life. For example, CPR helps to maintain oxygen in your lungs and get it to the brain until the electrical shock restores your normal heart rate.

If you suspect someone has sudden cardiac arrest or drops to the ground it is advised to call 911 as soon as possible.

How Common is Cardiac Arrest?

About 356,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of hospitals in the U.S. Roughly anyone can experience this condition. Moreover, cardiac arrest can occur with or without a heart disease. However, if you experience a myocardial infarction the risk of cardiac arrest may elevate.


Check below cardiac arrest symptoms:

  • Weakness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Fainting (loss of consciousness)

You may think about what occurs right after cardiac arrest. Before loss of consciousness, a person may experience the following symptoms. Examples include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain


One of the most common causes of cardiac arrest is arrhythmia (irregular heartbeats). Ventricular fibrillation is a life-threatening arrhythmia that can cause a stop of heartbeats. As a result, this effect restricts the blood that carries oxygen throughout the body. If a person does not receive treatment, death may happen for several minutes.

Check below some causes of cardiac arrest:

  • Myocardial infarction
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Medicines for other health conditions
  • Brugada syndrome
  • Recreational drugs (including cocaine)
  • Long QT syndrome (LQTS)
  • Severe injury or disease with major blood loss
  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Congenital heart diseases
  • An infection that could change your heart’s structure
  • Blood loss
  • Extreme physical activity
  • Infectious conditions
  • Respiratory diseases
  • Toxins
  • Severe trauma

Some of the causes listed above can reduce oxygen levels, which prevents your heart from functioning properly.

Risk Factors

You may be at higher risk for cardiac arrest in the following cases. Examples include:

  • Had a sudden cardiac arrest or it occurs to someone in your family
  • Medical or family history with QT syndrome and ventricular tachycardia
  • Experience arrhythmias after a myocardial infarction
  • Heart valve disease
  • Congenital heart or blood vessel problems
  • Fainting history
  • Have heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Changes in potassium or magnesium levels in the blood
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Discuss with your healthcare professional if you experience any of the previous conditions.


People who survive after cardiac arrest may have some health problems that last from months to years. Examples include:

  • Mental health problems
  • Fatigue
  • Cognitive issues


A quick diagnosis is vital if an individual experiences cardiac arrest because death may occur within minutes. The following symptoms are the best method to diagnose whether a person has cardiac arrest or not. For example, a person is not breathing, is unconscious, and has no pulse. For more details, discuss it with your healthcare professional.


The treatment should start immediately no matter where you are because the survival change is about 90% and drops by 10% every minute after cardiac arrest. If you do not receive CPR for 8 minutes you may die. However, approximately 5 minutes is needed to get brain damage. Check below some tips if you notice that someone experiences sudden cardiac arrest:

  • First, call 911 right away.
  • Thereafter, it is advised to start CPR even if it is just the hands version only. Even this method can help to replace the heart beating until help arrives.
  • You can also use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if it is available. An AED increases the chances that a person will survive.

If the emergency personnel arrives, they will give a defibrillator shock to your heart through paddles placed on the chest. The electrical shock helps to restore the normal heart rate. In addition, emergency personnel will give you an IV intravenous in the arm that will help to prevent arrhythmia and restore the normal heart’s electrical rhythm.


Fortunately, you can prevent this condition. Check the following steps that will help you to prevent future sudden cardiac arrest:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Blood tests to verify electrolytes that are important in your heart’s electrical conduction.
  • Ambulatory monitoring
  • Echocardiogram (echo)
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Electrophysiology study

The following treatment options can also decrease the risk or prevent further episodes. For example:

  • Beta-Blocker medicines
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD)
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery (CABG) or angioplasty
  • Early diagnosis and treatment of an arrhythmia

Additionally, you can decrease your risk of cardiac arrest by managing conditions that put you at risk. Examples include high levels of cholesterol in the blood, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, and others). It is also recommended to have a healthy lifestyle. For example:

  • Eating heart-healthy foods
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Regular exercises
  • Limit or avoid tobacco and alcohol products

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I expect if I have a cardiac arrest?

About 9 in 10 people who survive after a cardiac arrest, experience permanent brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen. After that, you may experience some changes. For example:

  • Ataxia (impact movements and coordination)
  • Coma and persistent vegetative state
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dysphagia (swallowing problems)
  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Seizures
  • Speech problems
  • Stroke
  • Unusual behavior
  • Vision changes (such as low vision)

Can a person survive after cardiac arrest?

It is possible to survive after cardiac arrest but it is not common. Usually, people who experience cardiac arrest outside the hospital do not survive because they do not get help in time. Additionally, about 26% of people who experience cardiac arrest in a hospital survive and return home.

What is the difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack?

A sudden cardiac arrest occurs due to an electrical issue but myocardial infarction is caused by a blood flow problem. In any case, cardiac arrest is not a heart attack but an individual may experience a sudden cardiac arrest after a myocardial infarction.

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