Sudden cardiac arrest, SCA; Cardiopulmonary arrest; Circulatory arrest; Arrhythmia - cardiac arrest; Fibrillation - cardiac arrest; Heart block - cardiac arrest
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating. When this happens, blood flow to the brain and the rest of the body also stops. Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If it is not treated within a few minutes, cardiac arrest most often causes death.
While some people refer to a heart attack as a cardiac arrest, they are not the same thing. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery stops the flow of blood to the heart. A heart attack can damage the heart, but it does not necessarily cause death. Sometimes a heart attack can trigger a cardiac arrest, however.
Cardiac arrest is caused by a problem with the heart's electrical system, such as:
Problems that may lead to cardiac arrest include:
Most people DO NOT have any symptoms of cardiac arrest until it happens. Symptoms may include:
In some cases, you may notice some symptoms about an hour before cardiac arrest. These may include:
Cardiac arrest happens so quickly, there is no time to do tests. If a person survives, most tests are done afterwards to help find out what caused the cardiac arrest. These may include:
Your provider may also run other tests, depending on your health history and the results of these tests.
Cardiac arrest needs emergency treatment right away to get the heart started again.
If you survive cardiac arrest, you will be admitted to a hospital for treatment. Depending on what caused your cardiac arrest, you may need other medicines, procedures, or surgery.
You may have a small device, called an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) placed under your skin near your chest. An ICD monitors your heartbeat and gives your heart an electric shock if it detects an abnormal heart rhythm.
Most people DO NOT survive cardiac arrest. If you have had a cardiac arrest, you are at high risk of having another. You will need to work closely with your doctors to reduce your risk.
Cardiac arrest can cause some lasting health problems including:
You may need ongoing care and treatment to manage some of these complications.
Call your provider or 911 right away if you have:
The best way to protect yourself from cardiac arrest is to keep your heart healthy. If you have CHD or another heart condition, ask your provider how to reduce your risk of cardiac arrest.
American Heart Association. About Cardiac Arrest. Updated November 14, 2014.
Myerburg RJ. Approach to cardiac arrest and life-threatening arrhythmias. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 63.
Myerburg RJ, Castellanos A. Cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death. In: Bonow RO, Mann DL, Zipes DP, Libby P, Braunwald E, eds. Braunwald's Heart Disease: A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 39.
Last reviewed on: 5/5/2016
Reviewed by: Michael A. Chen, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Cardiology, Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington Medical School, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.