Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is when the heart stops beating and blood stops flowing through the body. If the heartbeat is not restarted within minutes, the person will die. Cardiac arrest often happens to people who don’t even know they have a heart problem.

A cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack happens when part of the heart muscle dies because blood flow to the muscle has been blocked.

With a cardiac arrest, the heart's electrical system malfunctions. In most cases, the heart's rhythm is too fast and irregular. This problem is called ventricular fibrillation, or when the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) quiver very fast and can't pump blood.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest are immediate and drastic and include:

  • Sudden collapse
  • No pulse
  • No breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Sometimes other signs and symptoms precede sudden cardiac arrest. These may include fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations or vomiting. But sudden cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning.

How is a cardiac arrest treated?

Immediately after a cardiac arrest occurs, the use of CPR or a device called an automated external defibrillator (AED) can be a lifesaver. An AED shocks the heart back to a normal rhythm.

In the ambulance and hospital, the person will receive emergency care. This care keeps the heart and lungs working to prevent damage to the body due to a lack of oxygen. Doctors will try to find the cause of the cardiac arrest to prevent another one.

If you survive a cardiac arrest, you'll likely be admitted to a hospital for ongoing care and treatment. While in the hospital, your medical team will try to find out what caused your arrest.

If you're diagnosed with coronary heart disease, you may have:

  • Angioplasty – a catheter is threaded up to a blocked artery and a tiny balloon is inflated to expand the artery. Often a stent is placed to keep the artery open.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft surgery – to bypass a narrowed or blocked artery using a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body.

Often, people who have cardiac arrest will get an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) that uses electrical pulses to control abnormal heart rhythms, especially ones that can be life-threatening.

How can I prevent a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest is a sudden, often unpredictable event. So prevention is the key. If you are having symptoms, have an existing heart condition or family history of heart disease, talk with your Mercy primary care doctor or heart specialist. This is particularly important for people who already have heart issues, such as:

Your doctor might recommend you have a:

With our extensive network of heart specialists, heart care facilities and hospitals, we can help you understand your risk factors and help you treat existing conditions. Our goal is to keep you heart healthy, so you can do the things you love.

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