A cardiology emergency is a condition in which a person experiences an acute and life-threatening issue such as a cardiac arrest or a heart attack. A cardiac arrest is a sudden loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness. This condition occurs because the heart which generates and pumps blood in the body is disturbed and stops functioning leading to no flow of blood in the body particularly the brain and resulting in death. Cardiac arrest is abrupt, sudden, and different than a heart attack where the blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked; though a heart attack may lead to a cardiac arrest in some cases. 

On the other hand, heart attack is a condition where the heart stops working because it is starved of oxygen and nutrients (for a prolonged period of time) which are essential for its survival. The heart needs its consistent supply of oxygen and nutrients to ensure there is proper pumping of blood through the body.

Both the conditions have their own symptoms, diagnostic process and treatment mentioned below:

Symptoms of a cardiac arrest

Some of the general cardiac attack symptoms that people might experience are:

  • 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

Most of these symptoms occur very near to a cardiac arrest, whereas there are a couple of cardiac arrest symptoms that if paid heed to could signal the upcoming dysfunctionality. These might include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations

However, you can always seek advance medical help to know if there are any irregularities in heart functioning. You should see a doctor if you experience any of these:

  • 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

Most cardiac arrest symptoms are short timed and do not leave much time to act before the arrest, hence, the best way to save a life is to avoid all cardiac arrest causes and stay clear of reasons and factors that can trigger a cardiac arrest.

Symptoms of a heart attack

Symptoms of a heart attack vary case to case and sometimes a person may not experience any symptoms. However, there are some classic symptoms that could indicate a possible heart attack.

  • Acute chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pressure or tightness in chest
  • Severe pain in 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

The intensity of the pain and the resultant attack will differ for each person. A mild heart attack is also sometimes mistaken as heartburn and often does not cause any harm. Such a case also referred to as angina is a warning signal and does not cause any harm because the blood flow is restored soon after and the pain recedes quickly thereafter.

As stated, in multiple cases, a heart attack may occur without any previous warning signs. This phenomenon is referred to as “silent ischemia” where the heart tissue is damaged due to sporadic, pain-free, interruptions of blood flow to the heart. Chances of silent ischemia are very high amongst people suffering from diabetes. This condition can however be detected through an ECG. 

Further, women in many cases do not experience these classic heart attack symptoms; instead they feel a tightness and fullness in chest or pain in the neck, arm or jaw.

Diagnosis of Cardiology Emergency

Diagnosis of both a cardiac arrest and heart attack is foremost made based on the symptoms of the patient. However, to confirm the analysis, the below diagnostic tests and procedures are used:

Cardiac Catheterization:In this, a small, flexible, short tube is inserted into a vein or artery in the leg or arm.A guide catheter – a hollow, flexible tube is then inserted into the short tube to get pictures of the heart by guiding the tube to reach the heart via X-ray images on the monitor. The doctor then inserts a dye to get clear pictureof the heart blood flow, blood vessels, valves, etc. to detect any abnormalities or blockages.

Cardiac Computerized Tomography Scan (CT Scan): A CT scan uses a combination of X-rays and a monitor to get absolutely clear picture of organs, bones, and other tissues. It allows the doctors to take a deeper look than a regular X-ray.

Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging:Cardiac magnetic resonance or a cardiac MRI uses strong magnetic field and radio waves to produce comprehensive and exhaustive pictures of the heart and its nearby blood vessels.  The tests can be used to check for heart and blood vessel functioning, proper structure, etc.

Apart from these blood tests and Electrocardiogram (ECG) can be used to detect a cardiac emergency.

Treatment of cardiology emergency

A cardiac emergency be it a heart attack or cardiac arrest requires immediate action and treatment such as:

CPR: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation is an emergency lifesaving technique that is performed when the heart stops beating. This procedure is performed immediately to keep the flow of blood and oxygen running through the body when the person’s heart and breathing have stopped due various reasons such as a cardiac arrest, heart attack, drowning, etc. CPR can be initiated by any person – untrained bystander or medical personnel – and involves basic chest compressions and rescue breathing. CPR has to be initiated in the order of CAB – Compressions, Airway and Breathing.

Defibrillation: Specifically administered in case of a cardiac arrest, defibrillation involves advanced care for a particular type of arrhythmia which can cause sudden cardiac arrest. It includes giving electrical shocks through the chest wall to the heart.

Medications: Once the patient reaches the hospital, the doctors will try to stablise the condition and treat a possible heart attack, heart failure, etc. Medications might include:

  • Thrombolytics to dissolve clots
  • Blood thinners to rejuvenate the blood flow by clearing clots
  • Antiplatelet drugs to prevent formation of new clots
  • Pain killers to reduce pain immediately

Long-term treatment: In case of a cardiac arrest that has resulted in a major heart attack, the doctors might have to perform surgeries to repair the damage and restore health.

  • Angioplasty can be performed to unblock the arteries by inserting a catheter (thin tube) through the artery that will open the blockage and restore flow of blood
  • A stent can also be placed in the heart to prevent the artery from closing again
  • Coronary artery bypass graft can be performed to reroute the blood flow to reach the blockage.
  • Corrective heart surgery to treat a congenital heart deformity

Complete care and proper precautions need to be taken to ensure there is no lapse and the blood to the heart is restored.

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