Cardiac Arrest

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest occurs when an abnormality in the heart rhythm (arrhythmia) results in a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, causing the heart to stop beating. Because the heart has stopped, oxygenated blood is not pumped to the brain and other organs. Cardiac arrest can result in death or permanent brain damage within minutes.

Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart conditions and the diagnosis, treatment and management of cardiac arrest. You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms of cardiac arrest can include:

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


Cardiac arrest is a sudden condition that requires emergency treatment. Diagnosing the condition happens after treatment to learn why the heart stopped. Common diagnostic procedures can include:

Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determine if parts of the heart are enlarged, overworked or damaged. The heart’s electrical currents are detected by 12 to 15 electrodes that are attached to the arms, legs and chest via sticky tape.

Blood test:Blood tests check the levels of certain fats, cholesterol, sugar and protein in the blood that could indicate heart conditions.

Echocardiogram: This ultrasound exam uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.

Radionuclide imaging (thallium stress test): This non-invasive procedure can identify if there is severe heart damage. A radioactive isotope is injected into a vein and a special camera or scanner records how it travels through the heart. Any heart damage can be plotted, locating the damaged area of the heart. This procedure can be done with an electrocardiogram, during both rest an exercise.


Preventable causes of cardiac arrest can include:

  • Diabetes
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Drugs including cocaine and amphetamines
  • Obesity
  • Physical stress including intense physical activity
  • Smoking

Risk Factors

Risk factors that could contribute to cardiac arrest include:

Age: The risk of cardiac arrest increases with age.

Gender: Men are more than twice as likely to experience cardiac arrest.

Family history: People with a family history of arrhythmia are at higher risk for cardiac arrest.

Heart disease: People with coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or a heart condition present at birth are at greater risk of a cardiac arrest.


While some risk factors cannot be controlled, there are ways you can help to prevent cardiac arrest:

Avoid use of tobacco and cocaine: Do not smoke or use illicit drugs.

Control diabetes: Take medications as prescribed and follow your physician’s eating and exercise recommendations.

Eat heart-healthy foods: Limit your salt, sugar and saturated fats intake and add heart-healthy food to your diet.

Exercise: Get aerobic exercise for 30 minutes at least five days a week.

Limit alcohol use: Talk with your physician about the amount and types of alcohol you can consume.

Manage stress: Learn how to manage stress.

Take your medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, anxiety or depression, be certain to take your prescribed medications as directed.


The prognosis for people with cardiac arrest depends upon the time between collapse and start of CPR or defibrillation, the quality of CPR or defibrillation and whether the person had any neurological function during or immediately after CPR.

Treatment and Recovery

The main treatments for cardiac arrest are:

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

CPR is a combination of chest compressions and rescue breaths designed to keep oxygenated blood circulating until the heart can be restarted.

Electric Defibrillation

A defibrillator is an electrical device that provides a shock to the heart to restore normal rhythm.


Doctors may prescribe various anti-arrhythmic drugs for emergency or long-term treatment of abnormal heart rhythms.


Sometimes minimally invasive procedures can be done to help correct heart rhythm problems that may lead to cardiac arrest. Those procedures can include:

  • Radiofrequency ablation: In this procedure, a physician guides long, flexible tubes (catheters) through blood vessels to the heart. Electrodes at the catheter tips transmit radiofrequency energy to damage (ablate) a small spot of heart tissue that is causing an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI): This procedure, commonly known as coronary angioplasty, can open a blocked artery, improve blood flow and reduce the risk of rhythm problems. During this procedure, the doctor places a small catheter in your arm or groin, and threads a thin tube through the blood vessel to your heart. This tube may first be used to inject dye to get a clearer picture of any plaque buildup or blockages. Once a buildup or blockage is identified, a wire with a tiny balloon attached is sent through the tube and into the blockage, where the balloon is inflated. This stretches the artery and pushes the plaque to the side, helping restore blood flow. In many cases, a mesh tube or stent is then placed in the previously blocked area to ensure the artery stays open.


Surgical procedures used to help prevent a cardiac arrest from happening can include:

  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillation (ICD): An ICD is a battery-powered unit implanted under the skin near the collarbone, like a pacemaker. One or more electrode-tipped wires from the ICD run through veins to the heart. If it detects an abnormal heart rhythm, it sends out low- or high-energy shocks to reset the heart rhythm.
  • Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG): This surgery improves blood flow to your heart by creating a bypass around your narrowed coronary arteries using arteries or veins taken from other parts of your body.

Recovery After Surgery

Depending on how your body heals, you will be in the hospital for one to two days after ICD surgery and should feel fully recovered in four to six weeks. After CABG surgery, you will be in the hospital for four to seven days and full recovery may take six to 12 weeks.


Complications of cardiac arrest may include brain damage or death.

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