What is Ventricular Fibrillation?
Ventricular fibrillation is a heart rhythm disturbance in which the heart quivers erratically instead of beating as it should. Ventricular fibrillation affects the two bottom chambers of the heart, preventing blood from circulating throughout the body and reaching the vital organs. This can result in cardiac arrest, which is a life-threatening emergency.
In ventricular fibrillation, the electrical activity that maintains your heart’s steady rhythm becomes inconsistent. When this happens, the heart’s ventricles flutter in a rapid, uncoordinated way that prevents the heart from pumping blood. This leads to a severe drop in blood pressure and cardiac arrest. Death or permanent brain damage can occur within four to six minutes of experiencing cardiac arrest.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care for patients with heart disease and the diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions such as ventricular fibrillation. 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 of Ventricular Fibrillation
Ventricular fibrillation is an emergency condition and signs and symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
Ventricular Fibrillation Diagnosis
There are several diagnostic methods to identify the cause of ventricular fibrillation or to diagnose a related heart arrhythmia. We use advanced technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor heart conditions. These include:
Echocardiogram: An ultrasound exam that uses soundwaves to take moving pictures of the heart’s chambers and valves.
Electrocardiogram (EKG): This test measures the electrical activity of the heart and can help determines 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.
Electrophysiology study: This test records the heart’s electrical activities and pathways. It can help find what’s causing heart rhythm problems and identify the best treatment.
Event monitor: This portable EKG device records the heart rate when a button is pressed. It can be worn for weeks or until symptoms occur.
Holter monitor: This portable EKG device continuously records the heart’s rhythms and is worn for 24 to 48 hours during normal activity.
Implantable loop recorder: This device sits underneath the skin and provides long-term, continuous heart rhythm monitoring.
Stress testing: This test is conducted during exercise. If a person can't exercise, medicine is given to increase heart rate. Used along with an EKG, the test can show changes to the heart’s rate, rhythm or electrical activity as well as blood pressure. Exercise makes the heart work hard and beat fast while heart tests are administered.
Transtelephonic monitor: This device provides ongoing heart rhythm monitoring that a medical technician can review remotely.
Causes of Ventricular Fibrillation
The following can cause ventricular fibrillation:
- Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Ventricular fibrillation is usually connected to heart disease. Certain risk factors may contribute to this condition:
Medical history: A history of heart disease may increase the risk of having ventricular fibrillation. Conditions that may lead to ventricular fibrillation include a previous episode of ventricular fibrillation, a previous heart attack, congenital heart disease and heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy).
Injury: Electrocution could damage the heart muscle and lead to ventricular fibrillation.
Electrolyte abnormality: Ventricular fibrillation may result from an imbalance of electrolytes, minerals that help regulate heart rhythm.
While some risk factors like age and heredity cannot be controlled, there are ways you can lower the risk of having ventricular fibrillation:
Practice good heart health: Watch what you eat, exercise, don’t smoke and avoid dangerous drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine.
Take medications as prescribed: If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, be certain to take your medications as prescribed.
Get regular checkups: If you have been diagnosed with a heart condition, see your doctor regularly and report any changes or new symptoms right away.
Ventricular Fibrillation Prognosis
Because ventricular fibrillation leads to cardiac arrest, it is essential to provide immediate medical intervention. After an episode, there is a high risk that ventricular fibrillation will happen again. Patients should receive a full evaluation from their physician and appropriate treatment to avoid recurrence.
Ventricular Fibrillation Treatment and Recovery
If ventricular fibrillation was caused by damage to the heart, such as scarring from a heart attack, we may recommend medication, an implanted device or surgery to prevent a future episode.
Certain anti-arrhythmic medications can be used for emergency treatment of ventricular fibrillation or to prevent it from happening in the future. These medications help manage heart arrhythmia by suppressing abnormal electrical activity in the heart tissue. Drugs known as beta blockers, which lower blood pressure, may be prescribed for those at risk of ventricular fibrillation or sudden cardiac arrest.
There are a variety of therapeutic devices and procedures used to treat ventricular fibrillation, including:
Defibrillation: Delivery of an electric shock through the chest wall to the heart to momentarily stop the heart and the chaotic rhythm. This often allows the normal heart rhythm to resume.
Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): This device can monitor heart rhythm and produce electrical shocks, when needed, to control rapid and abnormal heart beats.
Pacemaker: This device can be implanted during minor surgery to help the right and left ventricle contract normally.
Angioplasty and Stenting: During this procedure, a small balloon is inserted to widen narrowed or blocked blood vessels of the heart and improve blood flow. A vascular surgeon sometimes inserts a stent, a tiny metal mesh tube, to support artery walls and keep blood vessels wide open.
Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG): This surgery creates a bypass around your narrowed coronary arteries by grafting arteries or veins taken from other parts of your body to improve blood flow, stop chest pain and prevent a heart attack.
Ventricular fibrillation is a severe heart rhythm abnormality that can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and receiving care for your preexisting heart condition can help prevent ventricular fibrillation and other complications from heart disease.
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