A cardiac arrest is an abrupt stoppage of the heart from any cause that deprives the brain, heart, and other organs of oxygen. A person will suddenly go into cardiac arrest without warning, but it may be precipitated by a major event such as a severe illness, injury, or electrocution. They may have difficulty breathing during a period before the actual event.
A cardiac arrest requires immediate CPR to provide oxygenated blood to the brain and restore normal blood circulation. If you've ever known someone to have a cardiac arrest, you'll know that this is not a good way to go. Without the proper equipment and hospital infrastructure, these individuals are often left without the care they need. On the flip side of things, those trained in CPR and first aid can help save others from cardiac arrest during an emergency.
Causes of Cardiac Arrest
There’s several reasons that cardiac arrest can occur. Some of the most common ones include:
- Ventricular Fibrillation - This is a serious and potentially life-threatening condition that causes the heart's ventricles to quiver instead of pumping blood out of the heart. This may be precipitated by chest trauma, electrical shock, electrolyte abnormalities, or as a result of myocardial infarction (heart attack).
- Pulseless Ventricular Tachycardia - This is more severe than ventricular fibrillation, in which the heart's ventricles quiver but do not pump blood out of the heart. Ventricular tachycardia stops the heart from effectively pumping blood to the brain and other vital organs. This can lead to cardiac arrest.
- Electrocution - Electrocution is caused by shock from electricity. A victim of electrical shock will often display various neurological symptoms, including muscle twitching and seizures. This could potentially lead to cardiac arrest.
- Anaphylaxis - Anaphylaxis is a severe systemic allergic reaction that is thought to be caused by an overactive immune system that releases various substances such as histamine, leading to an influx of fluid into the chest, throat, or digestive tract. This can result in suffocation and cardiac arrest.
Signs of Cardiac Arrest
There are some obvious medical signs when
- Not breathing or difficulty breathing - Usually occurs due to a lack of oxygen (hypoxia), which occurs when the victim's heart stops pumping blood.
- No pulse - A person in cardiac arrest may experience a weak, irregular pulse and could go into asystole (no heartbeat)
- No blood circulation - A victim may experience no blood circulation, which could result in a blue or pale color to the skin as well as cool and clammy skin
- Loss of consciousness - A person in cardiac arrest may show a loss of consciousness, which can happen suddenly, with no warning and can lead to cardiac arrest
- Chest pain - chest pain is a common symptom of cardiac arrest and could be caused by discomfort from the lack of oxygen, various internal injuries, or damage caused by coronary artery spasms or coronary vascular disease
- Irregular heartbeat - A patient suffering from cardiac arrest will experience a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) that is not in sync with the rest of the body's functions, which can lead to cardiac arrest
Reactions and Treatment
The first and most crucial step in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is establishing an effective airway. The patient needs to be completely sedated and placed on a firm surface like a bed or the floor, at the very least, while emergency personnel are attempting to stabilize their condition by providing CPR.
Once the airway is established, emergency medical services providers should assess any injuries that may have occurred that could be causing life-threatening conditions such as cardiac arrest. Next, they should perform a fluid resuscitation assessment to see if the blood pressure is stable enough for CPR or too low for continued resuscitation efforts.
CPR should begin with chest compressions if the patient hasn't suffered any injuries or cardiac arrest outcomes due to a pre-existing condition. Chest compressions are necessary to keep blood and oxygen flowing through the body until they can be treated by medical personnel or taken to the hospital.
Defibrillation is the use of an electric shock to restore normal heart rhythm. It replaces the electric energy in a person's heart when their muscles cannot contract. Defibrillation should only be administered if the patient has cardiac arrest due to ventricular fibrillation or pulseless ventricular tachycardia.
A medical professional should only administer medications because they could potentially harm someone if administered incorrectly, especially if they are allergic to any drugs that could be used in resuscitation efforts. However, in cardiac arrest that isn't caused by trauma, medications may not always be necessary, and other treatment methods may suffice.