Cardiac Arrest – Can You Bring Someone Back From The Dead?

More than 20,000 Australians die from cardiac arrest each year, making it one of our nation’s leading killers. While cardiac arrest is known by most to involve the heart stopping, many people’s knowledge ends there. The terms ‘cardiac arrest’, ‘heart failure’, and ‘heart attack’ are often used as synonyms. And few people know how likely it is that someone will survive a cardiac arrest or the long-term effects of one.


Let’s dig deeper and define what cardiac arrest is, what causes it and how it can be treated.

What is cardiac arrest?

When a person’s heart stops pumping blood through the body and into the brain, that person has suffered a cardiac arrest. Although the heart may still be moving (it frequently gets locked in an irregular pattern called an arrhythmia), the critical thing is that it is not pumping blood through the body and into the brain as it should. The person will usually also lose consciousness and stop breathing.

A cardiac arrest is a ‘rapidly fatal medical emergency’, which means it could kill in minutes unless intervention is made. It is often thought to be equivalent to being clinically dead. This is a medical term for a patient who has no blood flow or breath.

The most frequent reason for cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the heart’s lower chambers quiver chaotically rather than beating regularly, causing them to lose their rhythm and pump ineffectively. A disordered flow of electrical impulses may cause this condition as well as Atrial Fibrillation, where the upper chambers behave in the same way.

Cardiac arrest can be caused by a variety of conditions, including heart disease (and other cardiac problems), blood loss, strong emotional responses, and congenital heart defects. Obesity, high blood pressure, insufficient exercise, and smoking, among other things, can all increase your risk. Doctors cannot identify a single factor as the cause of cardiac arrest, although it can be reduced by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Symptoms of cardiac arrest

Unfortunately, cardiac arrest occurs without warning about half of the time. Even when they are present, symptoms are often nonspecific and therefore difficult to notice.

Here are some of the symptoms that can warn of cardiac arrest:

  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • A racing pulse
  • Blackouts
  • Chest pain
  • Vomiting

It is typically the case that if someone has a cardiac arrest, they will lose consciousness and collapse to the ground. Medical experts agree that in such circumstances, you should immediately assume a cardiac arrest has occurred and take appropriate action. If you come across someone who has fainted, is either not breathing or is gasping irregularly, and has no pulse, act immediately.

Cardiac arrest vs heart attack

A heart attack—or myocardial infarction—is not the same as a cardiac arrest. While a cardiac arrest is frequently the result of a heart attack, it is not always the case. An obstruction in the heart’s main artery causes oxygen deprivation in the cardiac muscle and initiates its death. Heart attacks are frequently (but not always) associated with chest ache, sweating, nausea, and vomiting, but victims are almost always conscious, unlike with cardiac arrests.

Although a heart attack is often fatal and requires urgent medical treatment, it is often survivable. The heart is a particularly vital muscle in the body, and this muscle is damaged by blockages in the arteries around it. By contrast, cardiac arrest occurs when the heart completely stops pumping blood throughout the body, resulting in death in a matter of minutes.

Cardiac arrest first aid

What should you do if someone has collapsed and you can’t find their pulse?

CPR was created to assist people having a cardiac arrest. In most modern first aid classes, CPR training is an important component, and there are even lesson plans specifically to train people in its use. A brief article is not a sufficient replacement for first aid training to help you save someone having a cardiac arrest. But as a guide, you should follow the DRSABCD protocol (usually known as ‘Doctors ABCD’):

  • Danger – survey the area for danger
  • Response – find out if the person can respond to your voice
  • Send for help – immediately call 000, or have someone go and get help
  • Airway ­– look to see whether the person’s airway is clear
  • Breathing – check to see if the person is breathing
  • CPR – begin CPR and keep it up until medical help is on the scene
  • Defibrillate – if there is an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) nearby, begin defibrillation as soon as possible

It is important to recognise that CPR alone is not sufficient to save lives; it is a procedure that pumps blood around the body and provides the brain with a short-term blood supply in an emergency. Without defibrillation or other medical assistance, cardiac arrest victims are very likely to die, so seeking assistance and getting someone to fetch an AED as quickly as possible are critical.

According to the medical community, if you are uncertain whether to perform CPR or defibrillation, you should go ahead and do it. The number of people who are injured as a result of unneeded CPR is insignificant compared to the number of people who are saved by CPR. AEDs are particularly engineered to recognise a person’s heart rhythm and only zap them if it is beneficial.

Adrenaline in cardiac arrest

Some people might consider injecting adrenaline into a cardiac arrest victim if there is an EpiPen or AnaPen close at hand, because of those substances’ substantial effects on the body. Medical professionals, however, should be the ones administering such medications. There is no evidence that using EpiPens or AnaPens for cardiac arrest improves outcomes, and it might even be detrimental.

Cardiac arrest survival rates

It is sobering to know that even if someone is actively performing CPR, the likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest while outside of a hospital is still relatively low—about 90% of victims die—but what is reasonable to say is that CPR can double or even triple the victim’s odds of survival.

A heart attack can cause serious, long-term health problems, including brain damage. It is critical to remember that survivors of cardiac arrest may suffer long-term health consequences, including brain damage resulting from oxygen deprivation. This is all the more reason to give the right first aid as soon as possible.

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