What Is It?
Cardiac arrest, sometimes called sudden cardiac arrest, means that your heart suddenly stops beating. This cuts off blood flow to the brain and other organs. It’s an emergency and is deadly if not treated immediately. Call 911 right away!
Cardiac arrest is quick and drastic: You suddenly collapse, lose consciousness, have no pulse, and aren’t breathing. Right before it happens, you could be very tired, dizzy, weak, short of breath, or sick to your stomach. You may pass out or have chest pain. But not always. Cardiac arrest can happen with no warning signs at all.
Your heart has an electrical system that keeps it beating regularly. Cardiac arrest can strike if the electrical signals go haywire and cause an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. There are different types of arrhythmias, and most aren’t dangerous. One called ventricular fibrillation triggers cardiac arrest the most. If this happens, the heart can’t pump enough blood to your body. That’s life-threatening within minutes.
Heart Disease Link
Many people who have cardiac arrest also have coronary artery disease. Often, that’s where the trouble starts. Having coronary artery disease means less blood flows into your heart. This can lead to a heart attack that damages your heart’s electrical system.
Cardiac arrest can also happen for other reasons, including:
- Major blood loss or severe lack of oxygen
- Intense exercise, if you have heart problems
- Too high levels of potassium or magnesium, which could lead to a deadly heart rhythm
- Your genes. You may inherit certain arrhythmias or a tendency to get them.
- Changes to your heart’s structure. For instance, an enlarged heart or changes caused by an infection.
Not a Heart Attack
Unlike cardiac arrest, your heart doesn’t usually stop during a heart attack. Rather, blood flow is blocked in a heart attack, so your heart doesn’t get enough oxygen. That can kill some of the heart muscle. But the two are linked: The scar tissue that grows as you recover from a heart attack can mess with the heart’s electrical signals and could put you at risk. And a heart attack itself can sometimes trigger cardiac arrest.
Not Heart Failure, Either
Cardiac arrest strikes suddenly. It’s an instant crisis. Heart failure is different. It’s a condition where your heart gets weaker over time until it can’t send enough blood and oxygen around your body. When your cells don’t get enough of these nutrients, your body doesn’t work as well. You may find it hard to catch your breath when you do simple things like carry groceries, climb stairs, or even walk.