Cardiac arrest or asystole is a condition, wherein, the heart stops functioning abruptly. It is also called sudden cardiac arrest or unexpected cardiac arrest, and the symptoms include loss of breathing and unconsciousness. Many people tend to use the terms, sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack interchangeably, however, it is important to know that they are slightly different. In a heart attack, blockages prevent portions of the heart muscle from getting necessary oxygen. In a sudden cardiac arrest, disruption of the heart's pumping action is usually caused by an electrical disturbance. The similarity between the two conditions is that, most of the time, they occur in relation to other underlying heart diseases (coronary artery disease in particular). Usually, within a few minutes of appearance of the symptoms, sudden death (also called sudden cardiac death) occurs.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Symptoms
As the name suggests, cardiac arrest signs and symptoms are sudden and drastic. A person is likely to collapse, stop breathing, not have a pulse, and even lose consciousness. For those, who are fortunate, these symptoms may be preceded by fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, palpitations or vomiting, which can set off warning bells to aware individuals. However, it often occurs without any warning.
Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment. If there is quick action, then the chances of survival are greater. When the heart stops, oxygenated blood does not reach the brain, which can result in brain damage in a matter of minutes, and consequently, death will occur within 8 to 10 minutes. Thus, you experience frequent episodes of chest pain or discomfort, heart palpitations, irregular or rapid heartbeats, visit your doctor at the earliest to check for any irregularity that can affect your heart health.
However, if a person collapses, stops breathing, or does not have a pulse, call the emergency number. While waiting for emergency medical help, administer CPR or chest compressions. If you are among those who don't know CPR, just push hard and fast on the person's chest, allowing the chest to rise completely between compressions. Keep this up at the rate of about two compressions per second, and you can manage without breathing into the person's mouth. Keep administering compressions until the emergency help arrives.
These days, portable automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are available in several places, such as airports, casinos, and shopping malls. If there is a portable defibrillator at hand, it is ideal for emergency situations, but only if one is trained to use it. The way to go about it, is to deliver one shock as advised by the device, and then begin or resume CPR, starting with chest compressions, for about two minutes. Next, use the defibrillator to check a person's heart rhythm. If required, a shock will be administered by the defibrillator. This cycle must be performed until the emergency personnel arrive or the person recovers consciousness.
Once the patient reaches the emergency room, efforts are made to stabilize the person's condition, and treat a possible heart attack, heart failure, or electrolyte imbalances. In many cases, medications to stabilize heart rhythm are given. The prognosis differs from one case to another. Some patients go into coma for a few days, weeks, or even for an indefinite period. There are others, who recover only partial function. Once the patient is stabilized, additional tests may need to be done, to pinpoint the cause of the condition.
It is very important that people are familiar with asystole symptoms, so that, they are in a position to take immediate action. Just 4 to 6 minutes after a cardiac arrest episode, brain death and permanent death begin to occur. If treatment is received within a few minutes of the episode and a normal heartbeat is restored, then the condition can be reversed.