Warning Signs of Cardiac Arrest: Identifying the Symptoms
Warning Signs of Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac arrest happens when the heart stops suddenly, cutting off blood flow to the brain. Without emergency treatment, the person dies within minutes.
Although people can go into cardiac arrest with no symptoms at all, research shows that many experience early warning signs. Knowing them can make the difference between life and death.
1. Chest Pain
Pain or discomfort in the chest, upper back, neck, jaw or arms that feels like a squeezing pressure or achy sensation is not something to shrug off or ignore. It could be a sign of coronary heart disease (CAD), which is the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest and can kill in minutes without immediate medical attention.
It was long thought that sudden cardiac arrest killed people without any warning signs, but researchers at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute discovered that half of those who went into cardiac arrest had a telling symptom 24 hours beforehand. Those symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath and sweating. They can also include a feeling that you are going to pass out, as well as nausea and vomiting.
2. Shortness of Breath
Breathing normally takes place without you thinking about it, but when you are short of breath, you should take note. This is a sign that something may be wrong with your heart or lungs.
Getting short of breath, or dyspnea, can be caused by many different health conditions. They include problems with your heart and lungs, such as a heart attack or pulmonary embolism, or diseases that restrict the flow of oxygen into your lungs, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or emphysema.
Researchers have found that almost half of people who experience sudden cardiac arrest had a warning sign within 24 hours before the event, but the signs vary by gender. For men, chest pain and difficulty breathing are the most common warning symptoms.
3. Difficulty Breathing
Breathing difficulties can be a sign of a heart attack, especially when they happen suddenly and without explanation. If you’re experiencing breathing problems, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor to determine the cause of them.
During cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating, stopping blood from flowing throughout the body. This leads to sudden death unless treated immediately. Emergency treatment includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation and electric shock, called defibrillation. Many public areas have automated external defibrillators, which nonmedical people can use if they witness someone having a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
Half of people who have a sudden cardiac arrest experience a warning sign 24 hours before the event. However, these symptoms can vary by sex. For example, women tend to develop shortness of breath, while men have chest pain.
4. Nausea or Vomiting
People who get immediate emergency medical care for warning signs of cardiac arrest are five times more likely to survive.
A person in sudden cardiac arrest may lose consciousness, stop breathing or shake (have seizures-like movement). If they do not receive hands-only CPR and an automated external defibrillator within two to three minutes of collapse, the odds of survival drop to zero.
It used to be thought that sudden death came on suddenly without warning, but researchers now know that half of the people who go into cardiac arrest experience a warning sign 24 hours beforehand. And that those symptoms can differ by sex.
For example, some women develop shortness of breath while men often experience chest pain. In addition, a person in cardiac arrest may vomit blood, a condition called hematemesis. This blood comes from the esophagus, stomach and small intestine. It may look dark and brownish, like coffee grounds.
People with seizures are at a higher risk for cardiac arrest. Seizures occur when rapid impulses override the normal electrical impulses that start your heartbeat. This results in a lack of oxygen-rich blood to the rest of your body. Seizures may also cause you to lose consciousness.
Symptoms vary depending on the type of seizure. Some are minor and don’t affect your awareness (an aura). Others may cause jerking movements of the arms or legs, loss of balance or uncontrollable breathing. Seizures can be caused by alcohol withdrawal, nervous system infections, extreme low blood sugar or pregnancy complications such as eclampsia.
Sudden cardiac arrest typically happens without warning. But if you know the early warning signs, it can improve your chances of survival. Follow-up care with your doctor can help prevent future episodes.