Cardiac Arrest:Causes, Symptoms & Treatment


Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. In most cases, it is caused by electrical disturbance in your heart which disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to your body.

In the United States, about 13 per 10,000 people outside hospital have cardiac arrest every year. This condition will lead to sudden cardiac death, which is the largest cause of natural death across the country, causing 325,000 adult deaths per year.

Cardiac arrest most frequently occurs in adults who are in their mid-30s to mid-40s. Compared with women, men have a much higher risk. The condition is rarely found in children. Only 1 to 2 per 100,000 children are affected each year.



A common cause of cardiac arrest is arrhythmia, a problem in your heart rhythm which results from a problem with your heart’s electrical system. This system is responsible for controlling the rate and rhythm of your heart beat. When something wrong occurs, your heartbeat may beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly. Although these arrhythmias often cause no harm, some types may result in cardiac arrest.

In addition to arrhythmia, some heart conditions also can lead to cardiac arrest. These conditions include:

  • Coronary artery disease. This disease can make your arteries clogged with cholesterol and other deposits. Blood flow to your heart will therefore be reduced. Most people suffering from cardiac arrest have coronary artery disease.
  • Heart attack. A heart attack can trigger ventricular fibrillation and cardiac arrest. What’s more, it may leave scar tissue, around which electrical circuits are short. Eventually, your heart rhythm will become abnormal.
  • Enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy). If this occurs, it means your heart’s muscle wall becomes enlarged or thick. This abnormality can often lead to cardiac arrest.
  • Valvular heart disease. Your heart muscle will stretch or thicken if your heart valves leak or narrow. This condition can increase your risk of developing cardiac arrest.
  • Congenital heart disease. If you have a heart defect at birth, you will have a higher risk of developing cardiac arrest in spite of corrective surgery you have taken.
  • Electrical problems in the heart. Problems in the heart’s electrical system itself may cause cardiac arrest as well. These problems are called primary heart rhythm abnormalities, involving conditions such as Brugada’s syndrome and long QT syndrome.


Risk factors

Since cardiac arrest is highly associated with coronary artery disease, factors that can trigger it may also put you at a high risk of developing cardiac arrest. These factors include:

  • A family history of coronary artery disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • A sedentary lifestyle

Other factors that might increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • A previous episode of cardiac arrest or a family history of cardiac arrest
  • A previous heart attack
  • A personal or family history of other forms of heart disease, such as heart rhythm disorders, congenital heart defects, heart failure and cardiomyopathy
  • Age — the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest increases with age
  • Being male
  • Using illegal drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic kidney disease



Symptoms of cardiac arrest are immediate and drastic. They include:

  • Sudden collapse
  • No pulse
  • No breathing
  • Loss of consciousness

Some symptoms may occur before cardiac arrest, including:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations

However, cardiac arrest often occurs without warning.



Your doctor may recommend the following tests to learn what caused your cardiac arrest:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG)

ECG can reveal disturbances in heart rhythm or detect abnormal electrical patterns.

  • Blood tests

The levels of potassium, magnesium, hormones and other chemicals affecting your heart ability can be checked by blood tests.

  • Imaging tests

Imaging tests include chest x-ray, echocardiogram, nuclear scan and coronary catheterization (angiogram).



  • CPR

Immediate CPR is of vital important for treatment cardiac arrest. It helps maintain a flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s vital organs until more advanced emergency care is available.

  • Defibrillation

This is an advanced care for ventricular fibrillation that may cause cardiac arrest. It momentarily stops the heart and the chaotic rhythm, often allowing the normal heart rhythm to resume.

  • Medications

Medications prescribed for people who have heart attacks, heart failure or arrhythmias may include angiotensin- converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and other antiarrhythmics. People with high cholesterol and coronary artery disease may have statin medications.

Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: Uses & Side Effects

Beta Blockers: Uses & Side Effects

Statins: Uses & Side Effects

Lifestyle and home remedies

You can do the following things to reduce the risk of developing cardiac arrest:

  1. Don’t smoke.
  2. Achieve and maintain a healthy weight.
  3. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation — no more than one drink a day for women and men older than 65 and no more than two drinks a day for younger men.
  4. Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  5. Stay physically active.
  6. Manage stress.

Cardiac arrest requires immediate medical care. If you find someone in a cardiac arrest, call 911 and start CPR right away. Even if you’re not trained for CPR, it’s better to do something than to do nothing. The difference can be someone’s life. The American Heart Association recommends untrained people use only chest compression, which is easy, and still helpful.

How to perform a CPR on adults and child over 1 year

How to perform CPR on a baby 4 weeks old and older


Keywords: cardiac arrest; heart disease; electrical system; arrhythmia.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.