Cardiac Arrest

(Cardiopulmonary Arrest)

Definition

Cardiac arrest means that the heart suddenly stops beating. This is due to a problem with the heart's electrical system. When cardiac arrest occurs, emergency medical care needs to be provided right away. If it is not, the person can quickly die since blood is not being pumped throughout the body. Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack . When a person has a heart attack, the blood flow to the heart is interrupted. This may be due to problems with the coronary arteries, such as a build-up of plaque, a blood clot, or a thickening of the artery walls.
Electrical System of the Heart
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Causes

Cardiac arrest may be caused by:
  • A rapid, irregular heart rhythm preventing any circulation of blood (most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest)—ventricular fibrillation
  • A rapid, but regular heart rhythm that, if sustained, may turn into ventricular fibrillation—ventricular tachycardia
  • Dramatic slowing of heart rate due to failure of its pacemaker or severe heart block (interference with electrical conduction)
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Choking or drowning
  • Electrocution
  • Hypothermia
  • Sudden loss of blood pressure
  • Complications from eating disorders
  • Unknown causes

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the risk of cardiac arrest include:
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Enlarged heart
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Heart valves that do not function properly
  • Conditions affecting the heart's electrical system
  • Severe metabolic imbalances
  • Adverse drug effects, such as from drugs to treat abnormal heart rhythms
  • Lung conditions
  • Trauma to the chest
  • Extensive blood loss
  • Having an eating disorder
  • Excessive overexertion in people with heart disorders
  • Illicit drugs, such as cocaine use

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