According to research, one in four deaths in India happen because of cardiovascular diseases. In this, ischemic heart disease and stroke are accountable for more than 80% of this burden. That said, heart problems, especially emergencies like cardiac arrest or a heart attack can happen to anyone at any age. Even though the incidence of these issues is more common in elder people, but young people have also become highly prone to these ailments. Hence, it is critical to know about cardiac emergency.
A cardiac emergency is a condition where the patient gets a life-threatening cardiac arrest or a heart attack. Cardiac arrest is a medical state where the heart of the patient suddenly stops working, leading to loss of breath and sudden consciousness. A cardiac arrest happens when the heart, which is responsible for generating and pumping blood in the body, does not function properly. This improper functioning of the heart causes loss of blood flow in the body, particularly the brain. Further, if the situation intensifies and no medical attention is received, the patient suffering from a cardiac arrest can succumb to death. Cardiac arrests are abrupt and sudden, and also very different from a heart attack.
In a heart attack, the blood flow to a specific part of the heart is blocked. That said, a heart attack can further lead to a cardiac arrest in some cases. A heart attack is a serious medical condition where the heart stops functioning because of lack of oxygen and nutrients for a prolonged period. The oxygen and nutrients that the heart is deprived of are very critical for its proper functioning and to ensure there is enough blood in the body. When the blood supply is restricted or blocked due to reasons like a build-up of plaque, blocked arteries, etc. the heart is starved and eventually stops working, thus, causing a heart attack.
That said, a cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack and has varied symptoms, diagnostic process, and treatment.
Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest
Below are some of thesymptoms of a cardiac arrest:
- Abruptly racing heartbeat
- Life-threatening anxiety
- Uneven heart rhythm
- Flapping ventricles
- Frozen body temperature and numbness
- Abrupt collapse
- Pain and difficulty in breathing
- Loss of pulse
Most of these signs happen close to a cardiac arrest, whereas other cardiac symptoms can sometimes indicate an upcoming dysfunctionality. These might include:
- Chest ache or uneasiness
- Shortness of breath
That said, it is always advisable to get advanced medical help to assess any irregularities in the functioning of the heart. A patient should see a doctor if he/she experiences any of these signs:
- Chest pain or distress
- Fast or uneven heartbeats
- Nonstop and unexplained wheezing
- Shortness of breath
- Life-threatening heart palpitations
- Loss of awareness
- Blurry vision
Most cardiac arrest symptoms do not last for a long time and often do not give time to take action before the actual arrest happens. Hence, the best way to save a person from a cardiac arrest is to avoid the causes and factors that might trigger the condition.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Signs of a heart attack differ from one person to another. In some people, the symptoms appear early-on, whereas, in others, there could not be any significant signs.
Some signs that could likely indicate a heart attack, include:
- Severe chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Heaviness or tightness in the chest
- Intense pain in the back, jaw, left arm, right arm, shoulders or all of these areas
- Extreme sweating
- Racing heartbeat
- Fluctuating blood pressure
- Thready pulse
- Pale and cool skin
The intensity of the heart pain and the attack varies from person-to-person. In many cases, a minor heart attack can be considered as heartburn. Such attacks are not harmful and usually pass silently. Medically, this situation is also known as angina. However, angina is a warning sign, and even if it does not cause any harm in the present, there is a high chance that a problem can occur in the future. In the case of angina, the blood flow is restored soon, and the pain also goes off quickly.
Further, in many cases, a heart attack can also happen without any prior warning or symptoms. This silent attack is known as ‘silent ischemia’. In this medical condition, the heart tissue is damaged due to sporadic, disruptions of blood flow to the heart. A person suffering from diabetes is at a high chance of facing silent ischemia. However, this condition can easily be diagnosed via an ECG. Moreover, in the case of women, heart attack symptoms are different. Women generally feel tight and full in their chest or experience pain in the neck, arm or jaw.
Steps to Survive a Cardiac Emergency
A cardiac emergency, heart attack or cardiac arrest, can be treated only with immediate action. Some effective resurrection cures include:
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR): CPR is an emergency lifesaving method, which helps to rejuvenate a non-beating heart. CPR should be performed immediately to ensure the flow of blood and oxygen to the body is maintained, in case the heart and breathing stop because of various reasons like a cardiac arrest, heart attack, drowning, etc. Since CPR only involves chest compressions and specific breathing techniques; thus, an untrained bystander, medical professional or any other person can perform CPR to save a person. However, CPR should be done in the order of CAB – Compressions, Airway and Breathing.
Defibrillation: Defibrillationincludes advanced care for a specific type of arrhythmia, which can also lead to a cardiac arrest. Defibrillation involves administering electrical shocks through the chest wall to the heart muscle.
Medications: The patient suffering from a cardiac emergency, must be immediately taken to the hospital. When the patient reaches the hospital care, the doctors will use all possible methods and medications to stabilize the condition of the patient. These medications can include:
- Thrombolytics to melt clots
- Blood thinners to revitalize the blood flow by removing clots
- Antiplatelet drugs to stop the creation of new clots
- Pain killers to reduce discomfort immediately
Long-term treatment: In case a cardiac arrest has led to a major heart attack, the patient might have to undergo surgery to repair the damage and reinstate good health:
- Angioplasty is done to clear the arteries by injecting a catheter (thin tube) via the artery. This catheter aims to open the blocked arteries and restore the blood flow
- Placement of a stent to prevent the artery from closing again
- The coronary artery bypass graft is done to redirect the bloodstream to reach the obstruction.
- Remedial heart surgery to treat an inherited heart malformation
Overall, a cardiac emergency can be evaded with a healthy lifestyle and proper eating habits. Moreover, preventive medical check-ups help to detect any abnormalities time in advance.