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Arrhythmias & Cardiac Arrest: Understanding the Highly Risky Connection

A double-exposure image of an Asian man with severe chest pain due to sudden cardiac arrest in a park and a digital heart pulse.
June 14, 2024
by Dr. Karthigesan

Have you experienced those heart-stopping moments of panic or the warm fluttering sensation in your chest? Shockingly, these common experiences could be linked to serious cardiac arrhythmias, which are far more dangerous than they seemingly sound.

More shocking is the fact that these arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms, could trigger potentially fatal cardiac arrests. Knowing the facts about cardiac arrest caused by arrhythmia can help you safeguard your heart health and understand the significance of heart rhythm treatment.

A Closer Look Into Irregular Heartbeats & Their Impact on Cardiac Health

A Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is when your heart suddenly loses all cardiac activity and stops functioning due to arrhythmia or an irregular heart rhythm.

Let’s focus on Arrhythmia- the main culprit. There are no definitive rules for Arrhythmia.
This irregular rhythm can occur in any part of your heart. It can be very fast, extremely slow or just irregular from the usual beat. Besides, arrhythmias are not restricted to problematic hearts. They can also occur in individuals with perfect cardiac health. However, these arrhythmias are short-lived and harmless compared to prolonged ones that can seriously disrupt heart functions.

What Happens During an Arrhythmia?

A normal heartbeat is a rhythmic, regulated, well-organised and coordinated function that stimulates the cardiac functions. This normal lub-dub can become erratic due to poor heart health, issues with the heart valves, or problems with the blood your heart pumps.
When an arrhythmic cardiac arrest occurs, the person’s breathing can stop and render them unconscious. Without immediate medical treatment, this situation can worsen and lead to death.

Arrhythmias are of several types. They are grouped by the speed of your heart rate. The list includes:

  • Bradycardia- Slower than normal heart rate.
  • Tachycardia- Faster than normal heart rate.
  • Atrial Fibrillation or AFib- An arrhythmia that causes the heart’s upper chambers or the atrium to beat faster and more often than ventricular beats.
  • Ventricular Fibrillation or VFib- An abnormally fast contraction of the ventricles.
  • Atrial Flutter- An abnormally fast beating of the atria.
  • Premature Contraction- An extra early heartbeat causing irregularity in the rhythm.

While we discuss the various arrhythmias, it is crucial to know what causes SCA or sudden cardiac arrest and the factors that make you more prone to this fatal heart irregularity.

What Causes SCA: Reasons & Risk Factors Analysed

Whether lethal or not, all arrhythmias are caused by various conditions that impact the cardiac functioning and the physiology of the heart. These risk factors include:

  • Myocarditis or inflammation of the lining of the heart’s chambers and valves.
  • Coronary Heart Disease
  • Heart Valve Disease
  • Congenital heart disorders
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Hypertension
  • Electrolyte imbalances
  • Age and gender
  • Lifestyle-induced problems

A cardiac arrest can occur due to any of the above issues, or it can occur without any reason. However, the three main risks that make you more vulnerable to cardiac arrests are:

  • Cardiomyopathy is where the heart muscles thicken or weaken, causing the organ to increase in size.
  • Coronary heart disease, where the coronary arteries are clogged with plaque deposits, restricting the circulation to the heart.
  • Idiopathic Ventricular fibrillation or abnormally fast contraction of the ventricles, without obvious reason.
  • Family history of SCA.

Apart from arrhythmic causes, a cardiac arrest can also occur due to:

  • Lack of adequate oxygen to the heart
  • Excessive potassium and magnesium levels
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Excess loss of blood

Identifying Arrhythmias: Signs & Symptoms to Look Out For

Most often, arrhythmias can occur without any warning signs and are diagnosed only after the person has a Sudden Cardiac Arrest. In other cases, arrhythmias can manifest as:

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Heart palpitations
  • Discomfort in the chest region
  • Fainting episodes

The problem with cardiac arrhythmias is that they happen without warning leaving you with very little precious time to seek medical help, without which the condition can become fatal within minutes.

Risk assessment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Who is at risk?

Your doctor can assess your risk factors for developing life-threatening rhythm disorders and SCA. Your doctor will also run some tests for further diagnostic purposes. You may undergo:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG).
  • Blood tests to assess electrolyte imbalance or genetic cardiac issues
  • Ambulatory ECG and BP monitors.
  • Stress test.
  • Echocardiogram.
  • Cardiac catheterisation.
  • Electrophysiology study (EPS).
  • Tilt table test.
  • Computed tomography (CT).
  • Heart MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging).

An accurate diagnosis is vital in deciding the further course of treatment and increasing your chances of survival.

Arrhythmia Cardiac Arrest Treatment & Management Options

Not all cardiac arrests end fatally. It is possible to treat and reverse the high-risk condition with timely medical intervention. The survival rate can be as high as 90% if the treatment commences WITHIN THE FIRST FEW MINUTES after the incident.

The survival window is a very small one and the survival rate dips by 10% with each passing minute. In fact, all it takes is eight minutes for the situation to worsen and turn fatal. The person can undergo brain damage within five minutes of suffering a cardiac arrest and die without CPR and other first aid interventions.

Are these life-endangering arrhythmias treatable? Yes, they are treatable with medications and cardiac implantable electronic devices like defibrillators. However, you may have to try several of them before zeroing in on the best one for you. These medications include

  • Medicines that control your heart rate and abnormal rhythm.
  • Anticoagulant or antiplatelet therapy drugs.
  • Medications that treat related conditions that may be causing an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) for primary and secondary prevention of SCA.
  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation for arrhythmia.

These facts highlight the importance of maintaining your cardiac health by:

  • Adopting a heart-healthy diet.
  • Prioritising your heart health with regular checkups.
  • Avoiding alcohol and smoking
  • Keeping diabetes, hypertension, and cholesterol levels under control.

Care For Your Heart: Keep It Safe From Arrhythmias

Recovering from a cardiac arrest is akin to getting a new lease on life. The journey ahead is prolonged and continuous to prevent further episodes of SCA.

In such circumstances, you require the best cardiac care, like that offered by Dr. Karthigesan, the best cardiac electrophysiologist in Chennai. Do not wait until your symptoms worsen. Consult our team for preventive and advanced cardiac treatment. Book a consultation today.

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