Cardiac arrest is caused due to sudden abrupt loss of heart function and as a result normal circulation of blood stops as the heart fails to contract effectively. It is generally caused due to electrical problem in the heart which leads to the death of part of the heart muscle. If it goes untreated for more than five minutes it can lead to severe brain injury or even death. During cardiac arrest the heart starts to beat rapidly and quivers instead of pumping blood to the body and brain.

Cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac arrest is considered to be more severe than heart attack due to abrupt cessation of the normal circulation of blood because of heart failure. Ischemic heart disease is a primary cause for cardiac arrest but at times heart attack can also cause cardiac arrest. The blood plays an important role of supplying oxygen and essential nutrients to all parts of the body especially the brain. When the blood circulating in the body completely stops, the person loses his consciousness within minutes due to lack of oxygen in brain.

The heart can stop pumping blood around the body if the electrical impulses in the heart become chaotic or rapid. If the person suffering from cardiac arrest is not given quick medical treatment then his brain will get severely affected and he may eventually die. Sometimes a cardiac arrest can occur because of extreme slowing of the heart. The complications associated with cardiac arrest are potent and dangerous and hence it should not be ignored till the patient recovers completely and is able to walk again.

Cardiac Arrest resuscitation / Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is very beneficial for a person suffering from cardiac arrest and may improve the chances for survival. Several research studies have indicated that over 80 per cent of sudden cardiac arrest victims already have coronary artery disease. Coronary artery disease (CAD) is caused due to accumulation of atheromatous plaque within the walls of arteries that supply fresh oxygenated blood to the heart. If the coronary arteries are blocked, the heart will strive for oxygenated blood and reduce its ability to conduct the electrical impulses. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) most often occurs in patients with heart disease, especially those who have congestive heart failure and have had a heart attack.

A diet low in cholesterol and saturated fats, physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and avoiding harmful drugs are some the best preventive measure to avoid cardiac arrest and other cardiovascular diseases. High blood pressure, diabetes and high blood cholesterol are some of the risk factors which increase the risk of cardiac arrest. Other major risk factors include family history with sudden cardiac arrest, drug abuse, congenital birth defect of heart and arrhythmias.

Cardiac Arrest Causes

Coronary heart disease

One of the most common causes of cardiac arrest is coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is caused due to accumulation of atheromatous plaque within the walls of arteries that supply fresh oxygenated blood to the heart.

Cardiac Arrhythmia

The heart has an internal electrical system that controls the rhythm of the heartbeat. Problems with the electrical system can cause abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmias. It one of the major causes that leads to sudden cardiac arrest. In arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm. Tachycardia is a condition in which the heartbeat is too fast and when the beat is too slow it is known as Bradycardia. Due to arrhythmia, heart loses the capability of pumping enough blood to the body and thus causes severe damage to the brain, heart and other organs.

Cardiomyopathy (Enlarged Heart) 

Cardiomyopathy is the deterioration of the function of myocardium. This cardiovascular disease affects the heart by arresting its normal functional activities. It can also severely affect blood vessel system of the body.

Heart attack

Heart attack is a condition which is caused due to breaking of atherosclerosis plaque or when it is dislodged from the wall of a vessel supplying blood to the heart and is suddenly obstructed. A blood clot can also form on the site of plaque of atherosclerosis in a coronary artery, preventing blood reaching the heart. Due to this the heart muscles are no longer oxygenated and they start to die and are replaced by scar tissue. The heart cannot pump blood efficiently if large areas of heart muscle are replaced by scar tissue. People with earlier cases of heart attack are at a greater risk of having a cardiac arrest.

Congenital heart disease 

Congenital heart disease (CHD) is a birth defect which is caused due to abnormal heart structure and functions. According to recent survey, at least 8 out of every 1000 babies born each year have a congenital heart defect. This disease may be caused due to genetic disorder or it can pass through family having history of CHD. The woman who smokes during her pregnancy has an increased risk of having a baby with congenital heart disease. CHD does not cause pain in the chest but common symptoms associated with this disease are poor blood circulation, fatigue, cyanosis and rapid breathing. Due to abnormal structural and functional defects of the heart, the risk of massive cardiac arrest among children increases.

Cardiac Arrest Risk Factors

High Cholesterol

High cholesterol levels cause the coronary arteries to narrow due to accumulation of plaque on the walls of the arteries. The arteries are also completely blocked due to high level of cholesterol. Cholesterol-rich food increases the level of bad cholesterol or low density lipoprotein (LDL), which is deposited on the artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis which is the primary cause of coronary artery disease. These LDL molecules contain more cholesterol and do not aid in the transportation of cholesterol out of the body, instead it deposits cholesterol onto the vessel walls. High density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol plays a vital role in removing cholesterol out of the body by transporting it to the liver. Low HDL levels can lead to severe cardiovascular disorder.


Coronary heart disease is the primary cause of cardiac arrest which is mainly caused due to diabetes. A person suffering from diabetes does not produce enough insulin which causes glucose level in the blood to increase, instead of being used for energy. People suffering from diabetes tend to have higher LDL levels than HDL levels. The higher percentage of LDL or bad cholesterol obstruct the normal flow of oxygenated blood to the heart, thus making heart inefficient for pumping blood all around the body. When the glucose level in the body increases, it affects the coronary arteries, making the walls rough and narrow due to the accumulation of fatty deposits that block the flow of the blood. If blood flow to the heart is interrupted, the cardiac muscle becomes starved for oxygen and dies. People suffering from type 2 diabetes are at a much higher risk for a heart attack or a cardiac arrest. Generally in type 1 diabetes, pancreas does not make enough insulin but in the case of type 2 diabetes insulin produced by the pancreas is rejected by the body. Any of these conditions disturbs the blood glucose levels in the body and lead to cardiovascular diseases.


Smoking not only causes irreparable damage to the heart but also to the overall health of a person. It is one of the primary cause which leads to coronary heart diseases. Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 70%. It also increases the risk of sudden death due to coronary heart disease. Carbon monoxide contained in the smoke can clump the platelets in the blood, which makes the blood sticky and thus block coronary arteries. The chances of having a severe heart attack due are seen quite often among habitual smokers. The risk of congenital heart disease increases among pregnant women who are habitual smokers. Due to smoking, more than 430,000 people in the United States die each year due to cardiac arrest. It causes immediate increase in heart rate and blood pressure. Passive smoking also poses significant health hazards to women, infants and children.

Sedentary lifestyle and Obesity

People with sedentary lifestyle, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and hypercholesterolemia run a greater risk of having a heart attack. High cholesterol levels also cause the coronary arteries to narrow due to accumulation of plaque on the walls of the arteries. If arteries are completely blocked it can lead to a massive heart attack. Heart attack is one of the major causes of cardiac arrest among people with obesity and sedentary lifestyle.

Drug abuse

Addiction to certain drugs such as heroin, cocaine, hashish and other powerful prescribed drugs can cause major cardiovascular complications. Habitual use of these drugs can cause severe stress on the heart which can lead to cardiac arrest, strokes and heart failure. Due to overdose of such drugs person may even die due to sudden cardiac arrest. Drug abuse is also associated with complications such as high heart rate, high blood pressure, cardiac seizures, impotence, respiratory failure and coma.


Age plays a crucial role in the development of symptoms related to cardiac arrest. It generally affects people above 55 yrs but recent studies have shown that the incidences of CHD (congenital heart disease) among young people have also increased considerably. Old people are at a higher risk of developing heart conditions as their arteries become hard and narrow due to the accumulation of plaque over the period of time or those who have had a heart attack earlier.

Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) most often occurs in patients with heart disease, especially those who have congestive heart failure and have had a heart attack. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is a condition in which heart rate increases and its electrical functionality goes haywire. This causes the pumping chambers of the heart to contract in rapid, unsynchronized manner. VF is one of the common causes of cardiac arrest. Due to this a person may become unconscious within minutes and may die due to sudden cardiac death (SCD).The common symptoms associated with cardiac arrest are:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of breathing
  • Absence of pulse
  • Heart stoppage
  • Dizziness

Other symptoms may include nausea, shortness of breath, blackouts as well as fatigue but cardiac arrest may even occur without any symptoms or warnings.

Cardiac Arrest Prevention

There are no preventive measures that can be adopted for avoiding cardiac arrest as it comes suddenly and without any warning. The only option is to stop the development of this heart disease right from childhood. Maintaining healthy weight, physical activity, taking balanced and nutritious diet are some of the measures that can help to avoid cardiac arrest.  Medical checkups and screening of heart diseases will also help to monitor your heart health.

Healthy diet

Including a nutritious diet which is properly balanced with all the food groups is a vital requisite to prevent against cardiovascular diseases.

  • People suffering from high blood pressure should follow a low salt diet as increased salt intake pushes blood pressure higher and puts a greater strain on the heart. Magnesium rich food such as potatoes, spinach, and tofu help regulate heart activity.
  • People suffering from heart disease should also minimize all food containing high amount of refined sugars because as they raise cholesterol and contribute to weight gain.
  • Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamins and minerals should be included in the daily dietary intake as they help to protect against heart diseases.
  • People who follow weight loss programs should include diet low in calories and fats. Soluble fibers such as cereals, beans, peas, lentils, citrus fruits, strawberries and apples helps to lower bad cholesterol or LDL levels. Insoluble fibers such as whole meal bread, cauliflower, beetroot and prune aids digestion and maintain heart health.
  • Stay away from foods high in saturated fats such as red meats, cheese, fried foods and butter. Including 2-3 Garlic cloves in the green salad can help to lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

Avoid smoking

Giving up smoking and tobacco would lower the risk of cardiac arrest and other heart diseases.It is one of the major factors which contribute to severe heart attacks and atherosclerosis. Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease by 70% which is the primary cause of cardiac arrest. The coronary arteries are blocked due to carbon monoxide and other harmful chemicals present in the smoke. These harmful chemicals clump the platelets present in the blood which eventually gets accumulated on the wall of the arteries.

Physical activity

Physical activity not only helps to keep our heart healthy but also helps to improve mental wellbeing. Regular physical activity will help to fight against diabetes, obesity, hypertension, stress, high blood cholesterol which usually triggers many cardiovascular diseases. Meditation and relaxation techniques can calm the mind and soothe the senses. These techniques work well to overcome stress, which is one of the major factors that cause cardiac arrest.

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