What is Cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a medical condition where the heart stops functioning leading to a loss of breathing and consciousness. A cardiac arrest happens when the heart stops pumping blood leading to no flow of blood in the body, particularly the brain and resulting in death.

Generally, the heart makes the blood in the upper chamber or atrium and then supplies the blood to the other organs in the body through a network of heart valves. However, in cardiac arrest, the upper chambers of the heart crash and stop functioning and thus, there is no supply of blood to the body. Alternatively, the bottom chambers, known as ventricles, stop beating and become identical to thick gooey masses that do no produce a heartbeat or supply oxygen and blood to the other organs of the body.

This sudden crash of the system causes a complete loss o heartbeat, consciousness and can lead to an untimely death, if not resurrected timely. As per research, 95% of people who experience a cardiac arrest succumb to death. Also, each year in India, more than 10% of the total deaths occur because of cardiac arrest. It is also the most common cause of death in the entire world.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Mostly, a cardiac arrest is very sudden and hence, does not produce any significant signs and symptoms. However, some of the common symptoms of cardiac arrest include:

  • Abruptly racing heartbeat
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Dangerous heart rhythm
  • Fluttering ventricles
  • Frozen body temperature and numbness
  • Sudden collapse
  • Painful and difficult breathing
  • Loss of pulse

That said, most of these signs appear very close to a cardiac arrest. However, some of the other symptoms that could indicate the upcoming dysfunctionality include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations

Apart from these, even if a person does not have these symptoms but experiences any irregularities in heart functioning, a doctor should be contacted immediately. Some of the irregularities include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Continuous unexplained wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme heart palpitations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness and blurriness of sight

Mostly the symptoms of a cardiac arrest are very short-lived and hence, there is not much time to act before the heart stops functioning. Therefore, it is very important to get immediate medical treatment upon experiencing any of the above signs. Moreover, avoiding all cardiac arrest causes and staying clear of factors that can trigger a cardiac arrest, is the best way to prevent this problem.

Heart conditions that can cause a cardiac arrest

A few heart issues that could potentially cause a cardiac arrest include:

Coronary artery disease: This causes the coronary arteries of the heart to become narrowed or clogged due to build-up of cholesterol and fatty items called plaque.

Heart attack: A heart attack in many cases occurs because of severe coronary artery disease and can cause ventricular fibrillation leading to a cardiac arrest. A heart attack can also cause scar tissue, which can cause abnormalities in the functioning of the heart.

Enlarged heart: An enlarged heart can also cause cardiac arrest. An enlarged heart is indicative of weak heart muscles, coronary heart disease, or a valve problem.

Congenital heart disease: Congenital heart disorders, including Brugada syndrome (BrS) and long-QT Syndrome (LQTS), can potentially lead to abnormal heartbeats and rhythms. These birth defects can cause intense complications for adolescents and children. Also, people who have a history of congenital heart disease surgery are at high risk of cardiac arrest.

Valvular heart problem: A valvular heart problem occurs when there is a damage or defect in any of the four valves of the heart. A leakage or narrowing of the valve hampers the normal functioning of the heart, causing the heart muscles to stretch and thicken obstructing the blood flow. Further, this issue causes stress on the enlarged or weakened heart chambers, thereby, causing irregularity of heartbeat and rhythm.

Risk factors of cardiac arrest

A few factors that make a person more prone to experience a cardiac arrest include:

  • Age – Men above 45 and women beyond 55
  • Medical history of heart attacks
  • A family history of heart issues or cardiac arrest
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Excessive consumption of alcohol
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Physical inactivity
  • Abuse of drugs
  • Deficiency potassium and magnesium
  • Fatal kidney diseases

Treating of cardiac arrest

Since cardiac arrests are sudden, only immediate medical help can ensure survival. It is important to take prompt action and have an immense presence of mind to adopt the right medical approach. The heart can be revived if the patient receives treatment within the first minutes of an arrest. But every minute that is lost, reduces the chances of survival by 10%.

Here are some treatment options for a cardiac arrest:

CPR: CPR – Cardio-Pulmonary Resuscitation, includes chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth rescue breathing support to restore blood circulation. A person should give CPR to the patient until medical help is received.

Defibrillation: Defibrillation involvesdelivering electrical shocks through the chest wall to the heart muscle to revive it. This process aims to temporary stop the heart and the irregular rhythm. Once the heart is revived, the heartbeat is regularised. The defibrillators are configured such that they only send out signals when it is appropriate.

Long-term treatment: Once the patient is stabilised, the doctor will discuss the long-term treatment options to secure the heart from future cardiac arrests. These will include:

  • Drugs
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
  • Coronary angioplasty
  • Coronary bypass surgery
  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation
  • Corrective heart surgery

However, there is no better way to avoid cardiac arrest than to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Irrespective of the age or gender, a healthy lifestyle is very useful to avoid a cardiac arrest. Some healthy lifestyle habits that can prevent cardiac arrest include:

  • Opting for healthy eating food choices and habits
  • Increasing physical activeness
  • Getting regular check-ups done
  • Avoiding smoking or even passive smoking
  • Reducing stress
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Limiting alcohol intake

It is important to make these healthy lifestyle modifications a part of life. A person should aim to be more active and always be alert to his/her overall health. Regular medical check-ups can go a long way in detecting several issues in advance to minimise complications.

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