Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood to the rest of the body. Very often the outcome is fatal. As the heart does not pump blood, the brain and the rest of the organs do not receive oxygen-rich blood, without which they cannot function. The brain is damaged in three minutes after the cardiac arrest. Death occurs in approximately 5 minutes unless the heart starts pumping again, after the medical intervention or by external heart compression.
Cardiac arrest is different from heart attack, when only one part of the heart muscle is affected.
The cause of cardiac arrest is one of the two types of electrical problem in the heart: ventricular fibrillation, more common, and asystoli. During ventricular fibrillation, the ventricles contract quickly in persons with coronary artery disease, whose risk is higher under factors associated to lifestyle, smoking or diet. Cardiac arrest is also a frequent complication after a heart attack. Ventricular fibrillation may also be caused by electrical shock, drowning and dilation cardiomyopathy, when the heart muscle disease affects the heart ability to pump blood.
Asystoli is when the electrical and mechanical activity of the heart stops and the heart muscle is not able to contract at all, leading to sudden cardiac arrest. In asystoli, ECG shows a flat line, when reanimation must be immediately taken in order to maintain the blood flow to the brain and reestablish the electrical activity of the heart. Asystoli may occur during suffocation, diseases or injuries with heavy hemorrhaging.
The symptoms of cardiac arrest can show in several seconds. These are:
- loss of consciousness
- blue lips and finger and toes
- no pulse
- no breathing.
Often, there is no warning for these symptoms.
The risk factors for cardiac arrest are almost the same as for coronary artery disease because cardiac arrest is linked to this disease. These include:
- family history
- physical inactivity
- high blood pressure
- low potassium or magnesium levels
- previous heart attack
The complication of cardiac arrest is possible brain damage in survivors. Survival is rare if the cardiac arrest lasts longer than 10 minutes.
Prevention of cardiac arrest can be taken in terms of leading a healthy, normal life, with regular check-ups. Lifestyle is important (healthy food, less salt, physical activity, no smoking and alcohol, and stress management) and also family history. In case you already have heart problems, you can have at hand external debrillator or implanted one, as the doctor advises. If you live with someone that has a heart disease, it would be good if your are trained for CPR.