Sudden cardiac arrest requires immediate action for survival.
Immediate CPR is crucial for treating sudden cardiac arrest. By maintaining a flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body's vital organs, CPR can provide a vital link until more-advanced emergency care is available.
If you don't know CPR and someone collapses unconscious near you, call 911 or emergency medical help. Then, if the person isn't breathing normally, begin pushing hard and fast on the person's chest — at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions a minute, allowing the chest to fully rise between compressions. Do this until an automated external defibrillator (AED) becomes available or emergency personnel arrive.
Advanced care for ventricular fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia that can cause sudden cardiac arrest, generally includes delivery of an electrical shock through the chest wall to the heart. The procedure, called defibrillation, momentarily stops the heart and the chaotic rhythm. This often allows the normal heart rhythm to resume.
Defibrillators are programmed to recognize ventricular fibrillation and send a shock only when it's appropriate. These portable defibrillators, such as AEDs, are increasingly available in public places, including airports, shopping malls, casinos, health clubs, and community and senior citizen centers.
At the emergency room
Once you arrive in the emergency room, the medical staff will work to stabilize your condition and treat a possible heart attack, heart failure or electrolyte imbalances. You might be given medications to stabilize your heart rhythm.
After you recover, your doctor will discuss with you or your family what other tests might help determine the cause of the cardiac arrest. Your doctor will also discuss preventive treatment options with you to reduce your risk of another cardiac arrest.
Treatments might include:
Drugs. Doctors use various anti-arrhythmic drugs for emergency or long-term treatment of arrhythmias or potential arrhythmia complications. A class of medications called beta blockers is commonly used in people at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.
Other possible drugs that can be used to treat the condition that led to the arrhythmia include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and calcium channel blockers.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). After your condition stabilizes, your doctor is likely to recommend an ICD, a battery-powered unit that's put into your body near your left collarbone. One or more electrode-tipped wires from the ICD run through veins to your heart.
The ICD constantly monitors your heart rhythm. If it detects a rhythm that's too slow, it paces your heart as a pacemaker would. If it detects a dangerous heart rhythm change, it sends out low- or high-energy shocks to reset your heart to a normal rhythm.
Coronary angioplasty. This procedure opens blocked coronary arteries, letting blood flow more freely to your heart, which might reduce your risk of serious arrhythmia. A long, thin tube is passed through an artery, usually in your leg, to a blocked artery in your heart. This catheter is equipped with a special balloon tip that briefly inflates to open the blocked artery.
At the same time, a metal mesh stent might be inserted into the artery to keep it open long term, restoring blood flow to your heart. Coronary angioplasty can be done at the same time as a coronary catheterization, a procedure that doctors do to locate narrowed arteries to the heart.
Coronary bypass surgery. Also called coronary artery bypass grafting, bypass surgery involves sewing veins or arteries in place at a site beyond a blocked or narrowed coronary artery, restoring blood flow to your heart. This can improve the blood supply to your heart and reduce the frequency of racing heartbeats.
Radiofrequency catheter ablation. This procedure can be used to block a single abnormal electrical pathway. One or more catheters are threaded through your blood vessels to inside your heart. They're positioned along electrical pathways identified by your doctor as causing your arrhythmia.
Electrodes at the catheter tips are heated with radiofrequency energy. This destroys a small spot of heart tissue and creates an electrical block along the pathway that's causing your arrhythmia to stop your arrhythmia.
- Corrective heart surgery. If you have a congenital heart deformity, a faulty valve or diseased heart muscle tissue due to cardiomyopathy, surgery to correct the abnormality might improve your heart rate and blood flow, reducing your risk of fatal arrhythmias.