Sudden cardiac arrest

Other names: Cardiac arrest, sudden


Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness. It usually results from an electrical disturbance in the heart that disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the body. It differs from a heart attack, which is caused by blocked blood flow to the heart but can sometimes lead to sudden cardiac arrest.


Immediate symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest include sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing, and loss of consciousness. Other signs such as fatigue, fainting, chest pain, shortness of breath may precede it. Prompt medical attention is crucial for survival.


The immediate cause is usually an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) due to issues with the heart's electrical system. Ventricular fibrillation, where rapid impulses cause the ventricles to quiver instead of pumping blood, is a common arrhythmia leading to sudden cardiac arrest.


Factors like coronary artery disease, family history of heart conditions, smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and age increase the risk. Previous episodes of cardiac arrest or heart attack also elevate the risk.


Brain damage occurs within minutes due to lack of oxygenated blood during sudden cardiac arrest. Survival after 10 minutes is rare and survivors may experience brain damage.


Tests include electrocardiogram (ECG), blood tests for enzymes and electrolytes, imaging tests like X-ray and echocardiogram. Electrophysiological testing and coronary catheterization may be done later if needed.


Immediate CPR is vital for survival. Advanced care includes defibrillation to restore normal heart rhythm. Treatments post-arrest may involve medications like beta blockers or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). Procedures like coronary angioplasty or bypass surgery may be recommended.


Reducing risks through regular checkups, healthy diet, physical activity, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake are essential. People at high risk may need anti-arrhythmic drugs or an ICD for prevention. Consider purchasing an AED for home if advised by your doctor.


  1. What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function leading to unconsciousness and cessation of breathing and pulse.

  1. How does sudden cardiac arrest differ from a heart attack?

Sudden cardiac arrest results from an electrical disturbance affecting the heart's pumping action while a heart attack is caused by blocked blood flow to the heart.

  1. What are the immediate symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest?

Immediate symptoms include sudden collapse, no pulse or breathing, and loss of consciousness.

  1. What should one do if they encounter someone with sudden cardiac arrest?

Call 911 immediately and start CPR with chest compressions until emergency personnel arrive.

  1. What are some common causes of sudden cardiac arrest?

An abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) such as ventricular fibrillation is a common cause.

  1. What are some risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest?

Risk factors include coronary artery disease, family history of heart conditions, smoking, high blood pressure, and age.

  1. How does brain damage occur during sudden cardiac arrest?

Lack of oxygenated blood reaching the brain causes unconsciousness and can lead to brain damage within minutes.

  1. What tests are done to diagnose sudden cardiac arrest?

Tests include ECG, blood tests for enzymes/electrolytes, imaging tests like X-ray/echocardiogram.

  1. What treatments are used for sudden cardiac arrest?

Immediate CPR followed by defibrillation; post-arrest treatments may involve medications like beta blockers or procedures like angioplasty/bypass surgery.

  1. How can one reduce their risk of sudden cardiac arrest at home?

By maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet, not smoking, moderate alcohol intake; considering an AED if at high risk.

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