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Given the increasing rate of heart problems and people dying because of those issues, the understanding of cardiac emergency has become very critical. 

What is a cardiac emergency?

A cardiac emergency occurs when a person experiences a sudden cardiac arrest or a heart attack. In general, a cardiac emergency can be life-threatening. In a cardiac arrest, the heart of a person stops functioning completely, which further causes unconsciousness and loss of breath. It can also lead to death if not treated timely. Typically, a cardiac arrest occurs when the heart malfunctions causing poor blood flow in the body, particularly in the brain. Most cardiac arrests are sudden and occur without a prior warning. However, these are different from other type of cardiac emergency – heart attack. 

In a heart attack, the heart stops working due to lack of oxygen and nutrients for a long period. The heart for its everyday health and functioning requires an adequate amount of oxygen and nutrients. However, due to many reasons – such as a build-up of plaque, blockage of arteries, etc. – if the heart is starved of these necessary elements, a heart attack can occur. 

In some patients, a heart attack can intensify to cause a cardiac arrest. Both a cardiac arrest and heart attack have different symptoms, diagnostic process, and treatment. 

What are the symptoms of a cardiac arrest?

Some of the general cardiac attack symptoms include:

  • Abruptly racing heartbeat
  • Extreme anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Dangerous heart rhythm
  • Fluttering ventricles
  • Frozen body temperature and numbness 
  • Sudden collapse
  • Painful and difficult breathing
  • Loss of pulse

In most patients, the symptoms occur very near to the actual cardiac arrest. Hence, there is not so much of a warning. However, if paid heed to certain signals, the impending problem can be identified and thereby, addressed to reduce complications. Some signals that can indicate a cardiac arrest include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Continuous unexplained wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme heart palpitations
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Dizziness and blurriness of sight

Many of the cardiac symptoms are short-lived and do not provide any buffer for a planned action of treatment. Hence, the best way to tackle this is to avoid cardiac arrest by eliminating triggers. Moreover, it is critical to understand the cardiac emergency treatments to ensure the patient received the first care, which can further be improved by the doctor.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

The symptoms of a heart attack are very subjective. In some cases, the person may experience a lot of issues early-on, while in other instances, the symptoms could appear minutes before the attack.

However, some classic symptoms that can indicate a possible heart attack include:

  • Acute chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or tightness in the chest
  • Severe pain in the back, jaw, left arm, right arm, shoulders or all areas
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Dizziness
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Variable blood pressure
  • Thready pulse
  • Pale and cool skin

That said, the type of pain, the severity of symptoms and the intensity vary from person-to-person. In some conditions, patients also mistake a minor heart attack for heartburn and often do not get any medical treatment. These situations are medically called angina, in which a warning signal is let out by the heart but it does not cause any harm. However, if the underlying cause is not detected and treated in time, the heart can suffer a major attack.

On the other hand, in many people, a heart attack may occur without any warning signs. Such cases are referred to as “silent ischemia” where the heart tissue is damaged due to sporadic, pain-free, interruptions of blood flow to the heart. The probability of silent ischemia is very high in people that have diabetes. However, the condition can be detected via an ECG of the heart. Further, women in many cases do not experience these classic heart attack symptoms; instead, they feel tightness and fullness in chest or pain in the neck, arm, or jaw.

What to do in case of a cardiac emergency?

A cardiac emergency requires instant treatment, irrespective of whether it is a heart attack or a cardiac arrest. The types of cardiac emergency treatments include:

CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is a lifesaving technique that is performed in an emergency when the heart stops functioning. CPR is executed to restore the blood flow to the heart and keep the supply of oxygen and nutrients running, till the time proper medical care is not received. Initiating CPR does not require any training and only general awareness. A normal person in physical proximity to the patient can perform CPR. It only involves basic chest compressions and rescue breathing, which should be initiated in a particular order, CAB – Compressions, Airway and Breathing. 

Defibrillation: Defibrillation is a type of advanced medical care given to patients in case of a cardiac emergency. It helps curea particular type of arrhythmia, which might be the resulting cause of cardiac arrest. In defibrillation, the doctor administers electrical shocks through the chest wall to the heart of the patient.

Medications: A patient suffering from a cardiac emergency should be immediately taken to the hospital. After reaching the hospital, the doctors and specialists will aim to stabilize the breathing and the vitals of the patient and control the possible cause of the heart attack or cardiac emergency.Medications will be given to dissolve clots, clear clots, form new clots, and to reduce pain immediately.

Surgical treatment: For patients with severe cases, where a cardiac arrest has led to a heart attack, the doctors will need to rely on surgical repair to save lives and restore heart health. Some surgeries performed to treat cardiac arrests include:

  • Angioplasty to unblock the arteries. In this, the surgeon inserts a catheter (thin tube) through the artery to open the blockage and restore the flow of blood to the heart.
  • Stenting where a mesh wires stent is placed to keep the arteries from closing again in the future.
  • The coronary artery bypass graft is done to redirect the blood to the blocked area of the heart, starved of blood and oxygen.
  • Corrective heart surgery to cure a congenital heart deformity.

That said, a cardiac emergency can be avoided by adopting a healthy lifestyle, a good diet, regular preventive check-ups, physical activity and healthy weight management.

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