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Cardiac Arrest: A Cardiologist Explains Symptoms & What To Do In An Emergency

“A cardiac arrest is an event whereas a heart attack occurs over time.”

I am going to begin with a rather scary statistic—about 10 per cent of deaths in India are due to sudden cardiac arrests, and they are also the most common factor of death in the world.

So why am I beginning on such a sombre note?

This article will try and explain what a cardiac arrest is, what the symptoms could be, how one can prevent it from happening, and if one is around someone who is experiencing this then what can be done to help.


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To help us understand all of this, I spoke to Dr Subash Chandhar (MD) (DM), a practicing cardiologist at the Venkateswara Hospital, Chennai.

Let’s start by understanding what a cardiac arrest is.

“A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working. Medically, any person eventually will cease to live when the heart stops. The heart stopping is the finality,” says Dr Chandhar.

Are cardiac arrest and heart attack the same?

Know your heart
Source: Health FIRST/Facebook

Considered to be the same, cardiac arrest and heart attack are actually two separate circumstances, and it is essential to understand the difference between the two.

Shedding light on this Dr Chandhar says, “A cardiac arrest is an event whereas a heart attack occurs over time. So, the event of cardiac arrest can happen due to any number of reasons—for example, a fracture which leads to blood loss, due to an accident. A cardiac arrest could also very well be asymptomatic, where a person’s heart suddenly stops working while they are just sitting at home.

A heart attack is only one of the many factors that can cause cardiac arrest. During a heart attack, the patient’s heart loses the ability to pump blood only partially and continues with lower efficiency allowing the first hour for medical aid. However, during a cardiac arrest, the heart stops functioning owing to issues in the electrical system of the heart that disrupts the pumping ability.”

Symptoms you should watch out for that signal a cardiac arrest:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heart
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Uneasy feeling

“Remember that if one is experiencing a heart attack, usually there is immense pain in the chest, almost like it is being crushed, which is followed by profuse sweating, giddiness, and even nausea. It is important to note that not all heart attacks lead to cardiac arrest. However, the majority of the heart attacks can still lead to a cardiac arrest,” says Dr Chandhar.

While the symptoms of a cardiac arrest and heart attack could mirror each other, please remember, the main symptoms of a cardiac arrest are unconsciousness, lack of breathing and no pulse whereas a heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart stops and thus causes a section of the heart muscle to begin to die; whereas in a cardiac arrest the heart stops beating as a whole.

What can you do if you see someone experiencing a cardiac arrest?

Dr Chandhar says, “If a person has a cardiac arrest and collapses, the first thing you ought to do is immediately call for help and check their pulse. The next thing is to start CPR with periodic breathing, provided you have a Basic Life Support (BLS) certification. Continue doing this until an ambulance reaches you.”

Can one recover from a cardiac arrest?

Representational image
Source: Wikimedia Commons

“It depends,” says the doctor. “Those who experience a cardiac arrest out of the hospital have a higher mortality rate, whereas it is possible to reverse in-hospital cardiac arrest. We have seen patients whose hearts have stopped for almost 40 minutes, but with multiple shots, we have been able to revive them, and they walk home eventually. Cardiac arrests while are still treatable are one of those major things that happen to the body.”

Here’s how you can have a healthy heart

Dr Chandhar says, “It is easier to prevent these diseases than cure it. So please believe in prevention being better than cure. Identify health conditions early on and start treating them. For example, if you are a diabetic or have high blood pressure, ensure that you get periodic health check-ups and also have the necessary medications to keep the levels under control.”

Here are some other things you can do:

  • Ensure that you go for regular health check-ups
  • Refrain from using any recreational drugs
  • Include some form of exercise into your lifestyle
  • If you are obese, you need to ensure that you change your lifestyle pattern
  • Do not go on sudden and crash diets, follow a quantified nutritional plan
  • Ensure that you get enough sleep

Disclaimer: While this information is being put out to help, it is in no way a substitute for a qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your doctor for more information.

(Edited by Gayatri Mishra)

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