Cardiac arrest means that the heart suddenly stops beating. This is due to a problem with the heart's electrical system. When cardiac arrest occurs, emergency medical care needs to be provided right away. If it is not, the person can quickly die since blood is not being pumped throughout the body.
Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. When a person has a heart attack, the blood flow to the heart is interrupted. This may be due to problems with the coronary arteries, such as a build-up of plaque, a blood clot, or a thickening of the artery walls.
Electrical System of the Heart
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Cardiac arrest may be caused by:
- A rapid, irregular heart rhythm preventing any circulation of blood (most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest)—ventricular fibrillation
- A rapid, but regular heart rhythm that, if sustained, may turn into ventricular fibrillation—ventricular tachycardia
- Dramatic slowing of heart rate due to failure of its pacemaker or severe heart block (interference with electrical conduction)
- Respiratory arrest
- Choking or drowning
- Sudden loss of blood pressure
- Complications from eating disorders
- Unknown causes
Last reviewedAugust 2014by Michael J. Fucci, DO
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.