Cardiac arrest, cardiopulmonary arrest, or cardiorespiratory arrest is a severe medical emergency in which the heart suddenly fails to beat properly. This abrupt functioning of the heart beat differs from a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is obstructed.
The symptoms of cardiac arrest strike suddenly with devastating effects. Victims will often experience immediate collapse, the absence of a detectable pulse, cessation of breathing, and a loss of consciousness. These signs serve as a dire warning for immediate medical intervention. This blog walks you through the basics of first aid and treatment for cardiac arrest. But first, let’s learn why cardiac arrests happen in the first place.
Cardiac arrest often strikes suddenly and is typically triggered by an irregular heart rhythm known as arrhythmia. This happens when the electrical impulses that coordinate the heart’s beats don’t function properly. The most common type of arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation, where the heart’s lower chambers quiver erratically instead of pumping blood.
Several heart conditions can lead to cardiac arrest, including:
- Coronary Artery Disease: This condition results from blockages or damage in the arteries that provide blood, oxygen, and nutrients to the heart. It’s one of the most common causes of cardiac arrest.
- Valvular Heart Disease: When heart valves get narrowed, it can cause the heart muscle to thicken, which may eventually lead to cardiac arrest.
- Cardiomyopathy: Individuals with enlarged hearts are at an increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
- Congenital Heart Disease: Heart defects present from birth may also increase the risk of cardiac arrest.
- Electrical Problems: Some cases of cardiac arrest are due to issues with the heart’s electrical system.
In the critical moments of a cardiac arrest, quick action is essential to increase the chances of survival for the patient. Here’s a guide on what to do if you suspect someone is unconscious and not breathing due to a cardiac arrest:
- Shout for help nearby.
- Dial Emergency Services: Reach out to emergency services immediately by calling 112 in India, accessible from any phone.
- Act Regardless of Certainty: if in doubt, still make the call. It’s better to err on the side of caution.
- Stay Informed and Informative: Provide clear information to the operator, stay on the call, and follow any instructions given.
- Call for or get an automated external defibrillator.
The most effective first aid in cardiac arrest is the initiation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
- Understand CPR: This vital technique combines chest compressions with rescue breaths to maintain blood flow.
- Execute Chest Compressions: Use the heel of your hand, place it in the centre of the chest, interlock fingers with your other hand, and press down firmly and quickly, aiming for a depth of 2 inches.
- Give Rescue Breaths: After 30 compressions, tilt the head back, lift the chin, and give 2 breaths, sealing your mouth over theirs.
- Repeat the Cycle until Emergency Services arrive: Continue with 30 compressions and 2 breaths until help arrives or the person starts to breathe.
- Power on the AED: Follow the automated voice instructions after turning it on.
- Prepare the Chest: Expose the person’s chest to attach the electrode pads.
- Attach Electrode Pads: Place the pads as shown in their diagram.
- Stand Clear and Analyze: Ensure everyone is away from the person during analysis before delivering a shock.
- Deliver the Shock: If the AED advises a shock, press the button but only after confirming no one is in physical contact with the person.
If there are any signs of responsiveness by the casualty, such as opening their eyes or breathing, put them in a recovery position on their side with the knee on the upper side bent and the arm on the upper side crossed against their chest with the back of the palm holding the opposite cheek to rest the head sideways.
Post-resuscitation, cardiac arrest treatment includes advanced medical interventions and, when necessary, cardiac arrest surgery. In the hospital settings, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) which is a set of clinical interventions mandated for the urgent treatment of cardiac arrest and other listed cardiovascular emergencies. It extends essential life support to include the use of advanced airway management, appropriate drug therapy, and, when indicated, the initiation of percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) by trained medical professionals. Here’s an overview of some of the treatments currently in use by doctors:
It is a non-surgical procedure in which the blocked coronary arteries are opened for restoring the blood flow. It is often performed immediately after a cardiac arrest if the arrest is suspected to be caused by a heart attack.
In cases where PCI is not suitable, CABG, a type of heart surgery, might be recommended. This involves creating a new path for blood to flow to the heart by grafting vessels from elsewhere in the body to bypass blocked arteries.
Preventing cardiac arrest involves addressing the various risk factors that lead to cardiovascular disease. Here are some key strategies that can help reduce the risk:
- Diet: Adopting a healthy diet low in saturated fat, Trans fats, and cholesterol. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
- Exercise: Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight and reduces the risk of coronary artery disease.
- Weight Management: Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can reduce the strain on the heart and decrease the risk of heart disease.
- Moderation in Alcohol: Limiting alcohol intake to the recommended amounts can prevent the development of conditions that contribute to cardiac arrest.
- Smoking Cessation: Avoid smoking and tobacco use altogether, as smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease and cardiac arrest.
- Regular Check-Ups: Routine health screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and diabetes can help detect issues early and allow for timely intervention.
- Managing Chronic Conditions: Keeping conditions such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and diabetes under control with medication and lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of cardiac arrest.
- Medication Adherence: Taking prescribed medications for heart conditions or other health issues as directed by a doctor or cardiac surgeon.
Sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal if immediate first aid and treatment are not available. Remember, you can save a life with quick first aid. Prompt cardiac arrest treatment can enhance the chances of survival.
In the long term, prevention and prognosis for cardiac arrest hinge on the identification of probable risk factors, underscoring the importance of regular health check-ups, healthy lifestyles, and timely medications.
Disclaimer: This article has been written for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice by a qualified doctor or other health care professional. The author is not responsible or liable, directly or indirectly, for any form of damages whatsoever resulting from the use (or misuse) of information contained in or implied by the information in this article. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis, personalised treatment, and recommendations tailored to your individual health needs.