Cardiac Arrest Causes

Cardiac arrest refers to a situation when your heart abruptly stops beating or loses cardiac function. You will be unconscious when your heart stops beating – your blood pressure and pulse will be absent too. Immediate resuscitative efforts may help prevent serious loss, but cardiac arrest usually leads to death within a few minutes. Information about cardiac arrest causes may help you take measures to prevent it from happening. 

Cardiac Arrest Causes and Risk Factors

An abnormality in your heart rhythm is usually the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest. This abnormality is mainly due to a problem with the electrical system of your heart. Your heart is not like other muscles in the body that rely on nerve connections to get the electrical stimulation.

Located in the upper right chamber, a specialized group of cells called the sinus node works an electrical stimulator for your heart. The sinus node generates impulses that help synchronize the heart rate and facilitates the flow of blood from your heart to other parts of your body. You will develop abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) if anything goes wrong with the sinus node. These interruptions are usually harmless, but they sometimes lead to sudden cardiac arrest, which usually happens when you have ventricular fibrillation.

Heart Conditions Leading to Sudden Cardiac Arrest

You are more likely to develop a cardiac-arrest inducing arrhythmia if you already have a heart condition, such as:

  • Coronary Artery Disease: You develop coronary artery disease when cholesterol and other deposits clog your arteries and restrict the flow of blood to your heart. This can affect electrical impulses and result in cardiac arrest.
  • Heart Attack: A heart attack can trigger ventricular fibrillation that in turn can cause sudden cardiac arrest. You may develop areas of scar tissue after a heart attack, which affect the smooth flow of electrical impulses.
  • Enlarged Heart: You develop cardiomyopathy when your heart's muscular walls enlarge or stretch. This damages heart tissue and increases your risk of developing arrhythmias.
  • Valvular Heart Disease: Narrowing or leaking of the heart valves can cause your heart muscle to stretch and thicken which in turn leads to arrhythmia and puts you at a greater risk of having cardiac arrest.
  • Congenital Heart Disease: Children can have sudden cardiac arrest due to any heart condition that was present at birth. Both adolescents and children with a congenital heart defect are more likely to have sudden cardiac arrest.

What Increases Your Risks?

There are many cardiac arrest causes, but you are at an increased risk if you develop coronary artery disease. Therefore, the factors that increase your risk of coronary artery disease also put you at a greater risk of experiencing cardiac arrest. Some of these risk factors are hypertension, smoking, obesity, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, excessive alcohol consumption, and a family history of coronary artery disease.

Some other factors that may also put you at a greater risk of cardiac arrest include the following:

  • A previous heart attack
  • A family history of cardiac arrest
  • A family or personal history of other heart conditions, including heart failure, heart rhythm disorders, etc.
  • Use of illegal drugs, such as amphetamines or cocaine
  • Nutritional imbalance, such as low magnesium or potassium levels

Your risk of cardiac arrest also increases with age. Moreover, men are three times more likely to experience cardiac arrest as compared to women.

What to Do

Know the Signs

Knowing cardiac arrest causes is not enough, it's equally important to know the signs of sudden cardiac arrest, which may help you save someone's life. Fainting is usually the first sign of cardiac arrest, and there will be no pulse as well. Some people will feel lightheaded with a racing heartbeat before they faint. Some people may also experience shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, and nausea about an hour before cardiac arrest.

Act Quick

Seek immediate medical attention if you or someone you know exhibits these signs. You need treatment with an automated external defibrillator after a few minutes of sudden cardiac arrest for survival. Therefore, you should call emergency service the moment you experience chest pain with unexplained shortness of breath and discomfort in your arms or in the neck, back, or jaw.

It is important to start doing CPR while you are waiting for help to arrive. CPR helps maintain the flow of blood to the brain and other bodily organs. While doing CPR, you should ask someone else to arrange an automated external defibrillator because only this device can restore the heart's normal rhythm.

Long-Term Treatments and Prevention

Your doctor will explain some of the long-term treatment options after you recover from cardiac arrest. Your treatment may include:

  • Anti-arrhythmic drugs or beta-blockers to treat arrhythmia and prevent further complications. Calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, and amiodarone may also help treat your condition.
  • Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator (ICD) may help monitor your heart rhythm and pace your heart when your heart rhythm is too low. This battery-powered unit also sends out energy shocks to handle abnormal heart rhythm change.

In addition, your doctor may recommend coronary angioplasty to open blocked coronary arteries; coronary artery bypass grafting to sew arteries and veins; radiofrequency catheter ablation to block an abnormal electrical pathway; and corrective heart surgery to fix a congenital heart deformity.

Prevention Tips

Knowing more about cardiac arrest causes will help take precautionary measures, but your chances of survival after experiencing cardiac arrest depends on many factors. You may have to take a beta-blocker or another medication if you have severe coronary artery disease, which increases your risk of cardiac arrest.

In case you do not have known risk factors for cardiac arrest, you should make some lifestyle changes to prevent it from happening in the future. For instance:

  • Maintain an active lifestyle and pay attention to your diet. Include veggies, fruits, and grains in your diet with foods that are low in trans-fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol.
  • Do not opt for foods with high sodium and include lean meats, fish, poultry without skin, and fat-free milk products in your diet.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight and work with a dietician to lose excessive weight.
  • Quit smoking and limit your exposure to secondhand smoke to lower your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Seek medical attention for health problems such as high blood cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes. 
 
 
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