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Cardiac Arrest

What is a cardiac arrest?

Although often confused with one another, a cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to the heart is cut off. This is often caused by a clot in a coronary artery. During a heart attack, the heart is still pumping blood around the body and the person will continue to be conscious and breathing.

A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest and if you’re experiencing heart attack symptoms, it’s vital that you immediately call 999 for an ambulance.

However, a cardiac arrest usually happens without signs or warning. If somebody is in cardiac arrest, they’ll collapse suddenly, be unconscious, unresponsive and will either not be breathing or struggling to breathe, i.e., making gasping noises.

Without immediate treatment or medical attention, the person will die. If you witness somebody having a cardiac arrest or suspect that they may be, call 999 immediately and perform CPR.

What causes a cardiac arrest?

The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. This occurs when the electrical activity of the heart becomes so erratic that the heart stops pumping and instead quivers.

The main causes of cardiac arrest are:

However, cardiac arrest can also happen as a result of electrocution, a drug overdose, a severe haemorrhage, and hypoxia.

How is a cardiac arrest treated?

If you witness somebody going into cardiac arrest, immediately perform CPR on them. CPR keeps oxygen and blood travelling to the brain. Following this, a defibrillator delivers a controlled electric shock which helps towards getting the heart beating regularly again.

Cardiac arrest recovery

Recovery from cardiac arrest depends on the severity of the arrest, the symptoms you’ve experienced since and uncovering the root cause of it. This can be a long, complicated process with many changes and decisions to make along the way. You may be fitted with a pacemaker, enter rehabilitative care, or even be placed into an induced coma.

Your treatment team will guide you through your care plan and help you to make the best choices for you and your health.

We’re here to help

This, of course, can all be incredibly daunting, especially after such a lifechanging experience. You are not alone. We have trained nurses and care providers who can support you through the months following leaving hospital.

We also have support groups so that people who have experienced a cardiac arrest can help one another come to terms and learn to live a life that they love again.

If you’d like to learn more about us and what we can do to support you, give our Advice Line nurses a call on 0808 801 0899 for free, confidential advice.

Visit our Living with a Heart Condition section for more information about how to manage your condition at home, how to stay well and reduce your risk of future heart problems.

This page was last updated on May 6, 2022 and is under regular review. If you feel anything is missing or incorrect, please contact health.information@chss.org.uk to provide feedback.

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