Surviving Cardiac Arrest: What You Need to Know

Cardiac Arrest – What You Need to Know

Cardiac arrest can happen suddenly and without warning. It stops blood flow to the heart and brain, causing the person to lose consciousness. Without immediate treatment, it’s almost always fatal.

You can help someone who is in cardiac arrest by calling 911 and doing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and using an automated external defibrillator (AED), if available. This can double or triple the chance of survival.


Sudden cardiac arrest happens when the heart’s rhythm becomes very irregular, causing the ventricles to quiver or stop beating (ventricular fibrillation). Blood flow stops and the brain is starved of oxygen. The person dies within minutes unless emergency treatment is given immediately.

If a person you know experiences sudden cardiac arrest, call 911 and start hands-only CPR until emergency medical help arrives. Many communities have defibrillators, or AEDs, in public places. AEDs deliver an electric shock to the chest that can restore a normal heartbeat and prevent SCA.

In addition to breathing problems, a person in cardiac arrest loses consciousness and has no pulse. They may also vomit or have a seizure. Many survivors suffer brain damage from reduced blood flow and oxygen. Symptoms can include difficulty moving or thinking, memory loss, and speech or visual-motor impairment. These impacts can improve or worsen with time.


A heart attack occurs when an artery closes, blocking oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. Cardiac arrest is different because it happens suddenly with no warning.

Without rapid treatment, it’s almost impossible to survive. Cardiac arrest causes the heart to stop beating, causing people to collapse and become unresponsive. The lack of oxygen to the brain causes severe brain damage, which gets worse the longer it takes to restore blood flow to the brain.

Irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) are the most common cause of cardiac arrest. These can be caused by a heart condition you have at birth (congenital disease), medications or cold medicines, serious illness or injury, and even some physical activities.

Sudden cardiac arrest can also be caused by fast-beating, fluttering or pounding heartbeats called palpitations or by dizziness or fainting. Some people who experience SCA have warning symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath before they collapse. Other times, sudden cardiac arrest happens with no warning and can happen to anyone, even those who appear healthy.


Although cardiac arrest is often fatal outside a hospital, quick treatment can save lives. Emergency care includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation, which restart the heart with an electric shock. Defibrillators are available in many public areas, and even nonmedical people can use them, provided they know how.

A sudden cessation of blood flow causes a lack of oxygen to the brain. This can damage neurons and cause a permanent neurological deficit. It also can lead to global ischaemia-reperfusion injury, in which the sudden resumption of blood flow triggers an imbalance of ions, causing calcium to flood into cells, and activating excitotoxicity, in which neurotransmitters are over-stimulated.

Treatment depends on the cause of the cardiac arrest. For example, medication can help treat high blood pressure and cholesterol; surgery can repair damaged blood vessels or heart valves; and a healthier diet can reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure. Most patients who survive cardiac arrest experience some difficulties when they return to their normal lives, but these problems are usually less severe than those that occur in those who don’t survive.


While the odds of survival drop dramatically after cardiac arrest if you don’t get immediate treatment, prompt care significantly increases your chances of recovery.

Cardiac arrest occurs when rapid, abnormal impulses override the normal electrical signals that start your heartbeat. This condition, also called sudden cardiac death, can lead to a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the brain and other organs. Without immediate medical attention, you may die within minutes.

Most survivors of cardiac arrest are left with permanent brain injuries that impact their quality of life. These include movement disorders, difficulty with memory or speech, and diminished executive functions such as concentration and visual-motor skills. Survivors who undergo lengthy comas face even more challenges. However, a smaller subset of survivors who emerge from comas make remarkable recoveries. Nurses can help identify the individualized needs of these patients and guide their care throughout the recovery process. This includes determining the best way to prevent another cardiac arrest.

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