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cardiac arrest

Cardiac Arrest Explained: A Lifesaving Guide

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition that can get a hold of anyone, anytime, anywhere. It’s essential to understand this condition and be prepared to respond within time, because every second counts in saving a life.

In this guide by Manhattan Medical Arts, we are offering an in-depth understanding of what cardiac arrest is, its symptoms, causes, risk factors, treatment options, recovery process, as well as the crucial prevention strategies.

With this article we aim to not only keep you well-informed but also equip you with the needed knowledge that could potentially save your life.

What is a Cardiac Arrest?

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, leading to the interruption of blood flow to vital organs and tissues. Unlike a heart attack, which involves a blocked blood vessel, cardiac arrest is an electrical problem within the heart itself. This disruption prevents the heart from pumping blood, and if not treated immediately, it can be fatal.

Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

Recognizing the cardiac arrest symptoms is of utmost importance, as this condition demands immediate action to maximize the chances of survival – The quicker you can identify the signs, the faster you can respond.

Here are the key cardiac arrest symptoms:

1. Sudden Loss of Responsiveness:

Cardiac arrest often begins with an abrupt loss of consciousness. The person becomes unresponsive and won’t react to any external stimuli.

2. Absence of Normal Pulse:

Check for a pulse on the neck or wrist – in a cardiac arrest, there won’t be one. The heart has stopped beating effectively.

3. No Normal Breathing:

During cardiac arrest, normal breathing ceases. Instead, gasping or irregular breaths may occur, signifying a struggle for oxygen.

4. Bluish or Grayish Skin Tone:

Due to insufficient oxygen circulation, the skin, especially around the lips and fingertips, may turn bluish or grayish (cyanosis).

5. Sudden Collapse:

In some cases, a person may unexpectedly collapse before or during cardiac arrest, often without prior warning.

Cardiac Arrest Causes

Understanding the underlying cardiac arrest causes is essential for both prevention and effective response. There are various factors that can be listed among the cardiac arrest causes, such as:

1. Heart Rhythm Abnormalities (Arrhythmias):

  • Ventricular Fibrillation (VF): This chaotic, irregular heart rhythm is a leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest. It prevents the heart from effectively pumping blood.
  • Ventricular Tachycardia (VT): Rapid, irregular heartbeats in the ventricles can lead to VT, which may degenerate into VF if not treated.

2. Heart Disease:

  • Coronary Artery Disease (CAD): Blockages in the coronary arteries can lead to heart attacks, which, in turn, can trigger cardiac arrest if the heart’s electrical system is affected.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Enlarged, thickened, or weakened heart muscle can disrupt normal electrical impulses, increasing the risk of cardiac arrest.

3. Electrolyte Imbalances:

  • Potassium and Sodium: Abnormal levels of these electrolytes can disrupt the heart’s electrical activity, potentially leading to cardiac arrest.

4. Medications and Drugs:

  • Certain Medications: Some medications, such as certain anti-arrhythmic drugs, may increase the risk of arrhythmias and cardiac arrest.
  • Illicit Drugs: The use of substances like cocaine and amphetamines can trigger dangerous heart rhythms.

5. Structural Heart Abnormalities:

  • Congenital Heart Defects: Some individuals are born with heart abnormalities that can make them more susceptible to cardiac arrest.

6. Severe Trauma or Injury:

  • Traumatic Injury: Severe physical trauma, such as a severe blow to the chest, can disrupt the heart’s electrical system.

7. Chronic Medical Conditions:

  • Chronic Kidney Disease: Kidney dysfunction can lead to imbalances in electrolytes and increase the risk of cardiac arrest.
  • Diabetes: Poorly managed diabetes can damage blood vessels and nerves, affecting the heart’s electrical system.

Risk Factors For Cardiac Arrest

Here are some key risk factors of cardiac arrest to be aware of:

  1. Previous Cardiac Arrest or Heart Attack
  2. Coronary Artery Disease (CAD)
  3. Heart Conditions
  4. Family History
  5. Age
  6. Gender
  7. Smoking
  8. High Blood Pressure
  9. High Cholesterol
  10. Obesity

Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack

It’s quite essential to be able to differentiate between these two life-threatening heart conditions: Cardiac Arrest vs Heart Attack, for effective management and treatment. 

Here’s how to identify each from the other:

Cardiac Arrest:

  • Sudden loss of heart function.
  • No pulse or consciousness.
  • Electrical problem in the heart.
  • Requires immediate CPR and defibrillation.
  • Can be fatal within minutes if untreated.

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction):

  • Blockage in coronary arteries.
  • Chest pain and other symptoms.
  • Circulatory problem in the heart muscle.
  • Urgent medical attention needed to prevent heart damage.

How is a Cardiac Arrest Treated?

Immediate intervention is crucial to increase the chances of survival in a cardiac arrest. The treatment options for a cardiac arrest include:

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR):
    CPR involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to manually circulate blood and deliver oxygen to vital organs when the heart has stopped beating.
  • Automated External Defibrillator (AED):
    AEDs are portable devices that can deliver an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal rhythm when ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia is present.
  • Advanced Life Support (ALS):
    ALS measures include the administration of intravenous medications, intubation to support breathing, and advanced cardiac monitoring by trained medical professionals.
  • Medications:
    Medications like epinephrine may be administered to stimulate the heart and improve blood circulation.
  • Therapeutic Hypothermia (Cooling):
    Cooling the body to lower its temperature after cardiac arrest can help protect the brain and vital organs from damage.
  • Reperfusion Therapy (if applicable):
    In cases where a heart attack triggers cardiac arrest, reperfusion therapy such as angioplasty and stent placement may be performed to restore blood flow to the blocked coronary artery.
  • Post-Cardiac Arrest Care:
    Once a pulse is restored, ongoing care in an intensive care unit (ICU) is essential to monitor and support the patient’s recovery.
  • Identification and Treatment of Underlying Causes:
    Determining and addressing the underlying cause of the cardiac arrest, such as an electrolyte imbalance or drug overdose, is critical to preventing recurrence.

What is The Recovery Process After Cardiac Arrest?

Recovery after cardiac arrest varies depending on several factors, including the cause and duration of the arrest. It often involves intensive care and rehabilitation. The extent of recovery can vary greatly, and the support of medical professionals is essential for a successful outcome.

How To Prevent Cardiac Arrest?

Preventing cardiac arrest starts with a heart-healthy lifestyle, which includes: 

  • Maintaining a balanced diet
  • Engaging in regular exercise
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing stress
  • Controlling the underlying medical condition

Additionally, learning CPR and having access to automated external defibrillators (AEDs) in public spaces can also significantly increase survival rates.


Cardiac arrest demands immediate attention and action. Understanding cardiac arrest causes, symptoms, and risk factors is crucial for early detection and intervention. By learning how to respond to cardiac arrest and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can reduce your risk and potentially save lives. 

Manhattan Medical Arts is committed to helping you safeguard your heart health. If you have any questions or concerns about cardiac health or any other medical issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.


Can You Survive Cardiac Arrest?

Survival from cardiac arrest is possible with immediate CPR and defibrillation, but chances decrease over time.

How Long Can Your Heart Stop Before You Die?

Brain damage can occur within 4-6 minutes of the heart stopping. Survival without brain damage is unlikely after 10 minutes.

Is Cardiac Arrest Painful?

Cardiac arrest itself is not painful, as you lose consciousness. However, the underlying causes or cardiac arrest symptoms can be uncomfortable or painful.

– Disclaimer –
This blog is for informational & educational purposes only, and does not intend to substitute any professional medical advice or consultation. For any health related concerns, please consult with your physician, or call 911.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by Dr. Syra Hanif, M.D. on 10/12/2023

Learn more about our editorial process.

  • About The Author

    Dr. Syra Hanif M.D.

    Board Certified Primary Care Physician

Dr. Syra Hanif is a board-certified Primary Care Physician (PCP) dedicated to providing compassionate, patient-centered healthcare.

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