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Cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest: Introduction

Cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart has stopped beating or is not beating efficiently enough to sustain life. Cardiac arrest, also called sudden cardiac arrest, is rapidly fatal within minutes if not immediately treated with CPR, defibrillation, and advanced life support measures.

Cardiac arrest is most often due to certain serious cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms). A cardiac arrhythmia can result when the electrical conduction system of the heart is damaged or stimulated abnormally due to certain diseases and disorders, such as heart attack. Cardiac arrhythmias that can quickly cause cardiac arrest include ventricular tachycardia, in which the ventricles of the heart are beating extremely fast and ineffectively. Ventricular tachycardia may or may not produce a pulse. Cardiac arrest may also be the result of ventricular fibrillation, an ineffective, disorganized attempt of the ventricles to beat. Ventricular fibrillation does not produce a pulse. Cardiac arrest may also be the result of an extreme slowing of the heartbeat (bradycardia), obstruction of electrical impulses in the heart (heart block), or cardiac asystole (a stoppage of any activity in the heart).

Cardiac arrest can also be caused by drowning, electrocution, respiratory arrest, choking, trauma, or by certain conditions that cause electrical abnormalities in the heart, such as long QT syndrome and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Rarely, cardiac arrest can occur without any underlying cause. Cardiac arrest can happen in any age group or population, but people most at risk include those who have a history of coronary artery disease and/or a history of a previous heart attack. Other risk factors include cardiovascular disease, congenital heart defects, electrolyte imbalance, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and recreational drug use, such as cocaine and methamphetamine.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest include loss of consciousness and loss of pulses. Death can occur within minutes if CPR and defibrillation are not initiated immediately and advanced life support measures are not started rapidly thereafter. For more details about symptoms, complications, and treatment, see symptoms of cardiac arrest and treatment of cardiac arrest.

Diagnosing cardiac arrest begins with recognizing that a person has lost consciousness and does not have a pulse. In the medical setting, cardiac arrest can be seen with cardiac monitoring or on an EKG, which creates a picture of the heart's electrical activity and rhythm. However, treatment for cardiac arrest is begun immediately without waiting to obtain test results.

After initial treatment has begun, diagnosing the underlying cause of cardiac arrest involves taking a personal and family medical history, including symptoms that occurred prior to the cardiac arrest, and completing a physical examination. Diagnostic testing includes an EKG and other tests, such as a chest X-ray, echocardiogram and blood cardiac assay tests, which can help identify damage to the heart and underlying causes of cardiac arrest.

A diagnosis of cardiac arrest and its underlying cause may be delayed or missed because a person might be alone when it occurs and is unable to call for help. In addition, symptoms of cardiac arrest can be similar to symptoms of other disorders and conditions. For information about misdiagnosis and other disorders and conditions that can mimic a cardiac arrest, refer to misdiagnosis of cardiac arrest. ...more »

Cardiac arrest: Although used interchangeably by many people, the terms "cardiac arrest" and "heart attack" are not the same thing. Cardiac arrest is stoppage of the heart. A heart attack can result in cardiac arrest, but not all heart attacks do so (e.g. it may cause chest pain instead). Both cardiac arrest and heart attack need emergency immediate professional medical attention. ...more »

Cardiac arrest: Symptoms

The symptoms of cardiac arrest are due to the ineffective beating of the heart, which results in a lack of blood flow to the brain and a sudden loss of consciousness and unresponsiveness. A person with cardiac arrest will also lose his or her pulse and stop breathing. Other symptoms may include vomiting and pallor or a bluish or grey color of the skin.

Symptoms can ...more symptoms »

Cardiac arrest: Treatments

The first step in treatment of cardiac arrest is prevention and treatment of risk factors and potential underlying diseases and conditions. These include coronary artery disease, heart attack, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, hypertension, and recreational drug use. Prevention includes regular exercise, achieving and maintaining a ...more treatments »

Cardiac arrest: Misdiagnosis

Making a diagnosis and treating cardiac arrest can be delayed or missed because in some cases the person is alone when it occurs and cannot call for help because of an immediate loss of consciousness. In addition, when a person loses consciousness, it may be initially be mistaken by bystanders as fainting or a seizure.

In some cases, there may be some ...more misdiagnosis »

Symptoms of Cardiac arrest

Treatments for Cardiac arrest

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Cardiac arrest: Related Patient Stories

Cardiac arrest: Deaths

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Cardiac arrest: Complications

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Causes of Cardiac arrest

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Disease Topics Related To Cardiac arrest

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Cardiac arrest: Undiagnosed Conditions

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Misdiagnosis and Cardiac arrest

Heart attacks can be undiagnosed: Although the most severe symptoms of heart attack are hard to miss, there are varying degrees of severity. It is altogether too common for people to die from undiagnosed heart attack, more »

Heart attacks can be overdiagnosed: Although many people die from heart attacks, there are also many cases where people fear that they have a heart attack, but actually have something milder. Some of the conditions more »

Rare heart condition often undiagnosed: The rare heart condition called long QT syndrome can lead to episodes of palpitations and rapid heartbeat. In rare cases, this undiagnosed condition can be fatal. It should be considered for more »

Heart attack can be over-diagnosed: Although heart attack is often undiagnosed, leading to fatality, it can also be over-diagnosed. People become concerned that a condition is a heart attack, more »

Blood pressure cuffs misdiagnose hypertension in children: One known misdiagnosis issue with hyperension, arises in relation to the simple equipment used to test blood pressure. The "cuff" more »

Hypertension misdiagnosis common in children: Hypertension is often misdiagnosed in adults (see misdiagnosis of hypertension), but its more »

Cardiac arrest: Research Doctors & Specialists

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Cardiac arrest: Rare Types

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Definitions of Cardiac arrest:

Cessation of the heart beat. - (Source - Diseases Database)

Absence of systole; failure of the ventricles of the heart to contract (usually caused by ventricular fibrillation) with consequent absence of the heart beat leading to oxygen lack and eventually to death - (Source - WordNet 2.1)


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