Cardiac Arrest: Causes, Treatment and Survival Rates


The Heart is an important organ in the body that functions by pumping blood to different parts of the body.

This blood carries important elements like oxygen, nutrients, hormones etc. to different tissues in the body which helps them to function well. But then there are conditions which affect the overall function of the heart in different ways.

One of such conditions is called Cardiac Arrest.

In this article, we will learn more about this condition. As well as its causes and treatment and survival rates.

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What is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a serious heart condition characterized by sudden loss of blood flow resulting from the failure of the heart to pump blood effectively.

When the heart stops pumping blood, the brain is starved of oxygen. This causes one to fall unconscious and stop breathing.

Cardiac arrest is an extremely serious health issue. The condition can cause death or disability. If not treated within minutes, it can be fatal. Immediate response and treatment can save a life.

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What causes Cardiac Arrest?

A number of factors can cause sudden cardiac arrest. Two of the most common are ventricular and atrial fibrillation.

Ventricular fibrillation happens when the electrical activity of the heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops pumping, instead, it quivers or ‘fibrillates’.

Atrial fibrillation begins when the sinoatrial (SA) node doesn’t send out the correct electrical impulses.

When the electrical impulse goes into atrial fibrillation, the ventricles can’t pump blood out to the body efficiently.

Other causes of cardiac arrest could be related to heart diseases such as:

  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Congenital Heart Disease
  • Congestive heart failure and heart valve problems, like aortic stenosis (narrowing of the aortic valve)
  • Acute myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle).
  • Cardiomyopathy and some inherited heart conditions

Risk factors for cardiac arrest include:

  • Electrocution
  • A drug overdose
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Substance abuse
  • Low potassium or magnesium
  • Family history of heart disease

What are the signs and symptoms of Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest signs and symptoms are not subtle, it usually happens without warning.

For those who do experience symptoms, they will be non-specific. Such as:

  • Dizziness.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Weakness or fatigue.
  • Heart palpitations.
  • Vomiting.

When cardiac arrest occurs, the most obvious sign of its occurrence will be:

  • The lack of a palpable pulse in the victim
  • Loss of consciousness
  • No sign of breathing or difficulty in breathing

How is Cardiac Arrest diagnosed?

An electrocardiogram is used to identify the type of abnormal rhythm the heart is experiencing.

Blood tests can be used to look for signs of a heart attack. They can also measure potassium and magnesium levels.

Chest X-ray can look for other signs of disease in the heart.

What is the treatment for Cardiac Arrest?

Starting immediate Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is vital as it keeps blood and oxygen circulating to the brain and around the body.

Defibrillation helps to deliver a controlled electric shock to try and get the heart beating normally aga in.

If one survives a cardiac arrest, the doctor may start them on one or more treatments to reduce the risk of another attack.

These are:

  • Medication to lower high blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Surgery to repair damaged blood vessels or heart valves. It can also bypass or remove blockages in the arteries.
  • Exercise to improve cardiovascular fitness.
  • Dietary changes to help lower cholesterol.

How can Cardiac Arrest be prevented?

Cardiac Arrest is fatal and could sometimes lead to death. Death is best treated by prevention.

Therefore the following methods are employed to prevent cardiac arrest:

  • The use of medication to help lower one’s risk of cardiac arrest, lower blood pressure, reduce the heart’s workload and relieve heart disease symptoms
  • Aiming for a healthy weight, by promoting a healthy diet and exercising regularly.
  • Quitting or avoiding smoking
  • Managing underlying conditions. Seek treatment for conditions that affect heart health, such as high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
  • Device implantation. Research shows that an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chances of dying from a second cardiac arrest.
  • An ICD is surgically placed under the skin in your chest or abdomen. The device has wires with electrodes on the ends that connect to your heart’s chambers. The ICD monitors your heartbeat.If the ICD detects a dangerous heart rhythm, it gives an electric shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.
  • Use of public access defibrillators. This involves placing an automated external defibrillator in public places, and training staff in these areas how to use them. This allows defibrillation to take place prior to the arrival of emergency services and has been shown to lead to increased chances of survival.

What are the survival rates for Cardiac Arrest?

The overall chance of survival among those who have cardiac arrest outside hospital is poor, at 10%.

Among those who have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, 70% occur at home and their survival rate is 6%.

For those who have an in-hospital cardiac arrest, the survival rate is estimated to be 24%.

Among children rates of survival are 3 to 16% in North America. For in-hospital cardiac arrest survival to discharge is around 22%.

However, some may have neurological injury that can range from mild memory problems to coma.

Women are more likely to survive cardiac arrest and leave hospital than men.

For every minute that passes without defibrillation, a person’s chances of survival decrease by 7% to 10%.

In areas where emergency medical services are able to provide defibrillation within five to seven minutes, the survival rate for cardiac arrest has been reported to be as high as 49%.

Additionally, studies have shown that survival falls by 10-15% for each minute of cardiac arrest without CPR delivery.

Bystander CPR initiated within minutes of the onset of arrest has been shown to improve survival rates 2- to 3-fold.

In Conclusion

Cardiac arrest is a common health problem that stems from congenital malformations and heart diseases but in many cases people can take steps to prevent this condition and treat its complications.

Having adequate knowledge and creating awareness can go a long way in preventing fatalities.

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