What Is the Main Cause of Cardiac Arrest?

Medically Reviewed on 4/14/2022
Cardiac arrest causes
The majority of cardiac arrests are caused by disturbances in the heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia.

The majority of cardiac arrests are caused by disturbances in the heart rhythm, known as arrhythmia.

  • An electrical system controls the muscle cells and rhythmic pumping motion of your heart, which establishes and regulates the heart rhythm and maintains your heartbeat constant.
  • However, the electrical system may occasionally become abnormal, causing the heart to beat irregularly, slower or faster, or in irregular patterns, and it can even cease beating entirely due to certain pathologies. 

Ventricular fibrillation and atrial fibrillation are two of the most prevalent causes of cardiac arrest.

Ventricular fibrillation

  • In ventricular fibrillation, the two lower chambers of the heart, known as the ventricles, appear to be out of control, causing the heart's rhythm to vary abruptly.
  • This might possibly result in rapid cardiac death.

Atrial fibrillation

  • This starts when the sinoatrial node fails to send out proper electrical impulses.
  • When the electrical impulse enters atrial fibrillation, the ventricles are unable to adequately pump blood out to the body.

What causes cardiac arrest in younger people?

The most common causes of cardiac arrest vary with age. The majority of deaths in adults older than 35 years are caused by coronary artery disease. There is no single primary cause of cardiac arrest among people younger than 35 years.

Some of the disorders that might cause cardiac arrest in young individuals include:

  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: A condition in which the heart muscle becomes too thick
  • Long QT syndrome: A condition that can cause a dangerously erratic heartbeat
  • Brugada syndrome: A heart rhythm disorder

However, 40 percent of sudden cardiac deaths in young people remain unexplained even after autopsy.

4 conditions that increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest

The following are the most frequent conditions that increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA):

  1. Coronary artery disease:
    • Plaque buildup in your arteries can cause them to narrow, blocking blood flow to your heart.
    • This can result in a heart attack, which can result in scar tissue that disrupts the electrical system of the heart, increasing your risk of cardiac arrest.
  2. Congenital heart disease:
    • Every year, an estimated one percent of newborns in the United States are born with cardiac problems, some of which are recognized early on, whereas others go unnoticed.
    • Long-QT syndrome, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy are a few examples.
    • These cardiac disorders can produce changes in the electrical system of the heart or changes in the heart muscle that can affect the electrical system of the heart.
    • One of the main reasons why doctors listen to your heartbeat during a physical exam is to detect these heart problems.
  3. Structural changes in the heart:
    • High blood pressure and other types of heart disease can cause your heart to expand.
    • This, too, has the potential to disturb the electrical system and result in cardiac arrest.
  4. Family history of cardiac arrest:
    • If someone in your family has died from a heart attack, your risk increases dramatically.


In the U.S., 1 in every 4 deaths is caused by heart disease. See Answer

Risk factors for cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest can be caused by various factors. Certain variables, however, put you in danger of an SCA. Understanding and monitoring these circumstances might help you avoid this condition.

Fourteen variables that put you at risk of a cardiac arrest include:

  1. Smoking
  2. Hypertension
  3. High blood cholesterol
  4. Diabetes
  5. Obesity
  6. Heavy consumption of alcohol
  7. No physical activity
  8. A family history of coronary artery disease
  9. A previous heart attack
  10. An episode of cardiac arrest in the family
  11. Consuming illegal drugs such as amphetamines and cocaine
  12. Having heart conditions such as birth defects and cardiomyopathy
  13. Not getting enough nutrition
  14. Elderly age

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood. If quick action to revive the heart is not done, the person may die.

Cardiac arrest can occur for other reasons, including:

  • Major blood loss or severe lack of oxygen
  • Intense exercise if you have heart problems
  • Too high levels of potassium or magnesium could lead to a deadly heart rhythm
  • Your genes; you may inherit certain arrhythmias or a tendency to get them
  • Changes in your heart's structure, for instance, an enlarged heart or changes caused by an infection

12 common signs and symptoms of a cardiac arrest

Certain indications and symptoms of a cardiac arrest might be termed “warning signals.” If you or someone close to you develops any of the following symptoms, contact 911 immediately.

Twelve signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest include:

  1. Extreme dizziness
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Possible uneasiness in the chest
  4. Chest congestion that can get worse with time
  5. Heart palpitations
  6. No pulse
  7. Difficulty breathing
  8. Lose consciousness
  9. Collapse
  10. Feel nauseous or have an urge to vomit
  11. Sweating
  12. Unresponsive

Every year, between 300,000 and 400,000 people suffer from cardiac arrest. Only if therapy is administered soon is it possible to survive a cardiac arrest without long-term consequences. Delays might cause brain damage or even death.

Cardiovascular arrest is currently one of the main causes of mortality in the United States.

What are the immediate treatment for a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest must be treated as soon as possible, within minutes, or the person will suffer serious brain damage and die. The immediate objective is to get the heart to start beating again.

Automated external defibrillator (AED)

  • The most successful method is to use an AED, which efficiently restarts the heart by giving electrical energy to it.
  • Anyone may use this equipment to deliver an electric pulse or shock to the heart. AEDs can be located in various public places. (Follow the instructions on it before proceeding.)

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

  • CPR can be performed to restore the heartbeat by pumping blood to essential organs.
  • People who have received CPR training can considerably enhance their chances of surviving a cardiac arrest by performing mouth-to-mouth breathing and chest compressions.
  • Everyone is encouraged to learn hands-only CPR, according to the American Heart Association.
  • CPR performed while waiting for emergency responders has the potential to save a life.

According to the American Heart Association, anybody who has not been taught may conduct hands-only CPR, which is a two-step process:

  1. Call 9-1-1 or delegate the call to someone else.
  2. Push strongly and quickly in the middle of your chest.

What is the long-term treatment for a cardiac arrest?

People who survive cardiac arrest must go through a series of treatments to address any underlying problems. These procedures often comprise the following:

  • Coronary angioplasty:
    • If a cardiac arrest was caused by clogged coronary arteries, doctors prescribe coronary angioplasty, a minimally invasive surgery that uses a balloon catheter to open a clogged artery.
    • It helps resume normal blood flow to the heart.
  • Coronary bypass surgery:
    • It is the preferred technique for people with severe coronary artery disease.
    • By bypassing the blocked artery, it restores blood flow to the heart muscle. Traditional open surgery or less-invasive procedures can be used to execute the treatment.
  • Corrective heart surgery:
    • Congenital heart abnormalities that enhance the person’s risk of cardiac arrest are repaired or treated.
    • Structure problems in the heart can affect the valves inside the heart, internal walls of the heart, and veins and arteries that deliver blood to the body or the heart.
  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation:
    • It works by damaging cardiac tissue that causes irregular heart rhythms. People can avoid arrhythmia, which can lead to cardiac arrest, by preventing aberrant electrical signals from entering the heart.

Death can ensue within minutes unless an emergency shock is administered to the heart to restore its normal rhythm using equipment known as a defibrillator. More than 70 percent of people with ventricular fibrillation die before reaching the hospital.

Cardiac arrest is considered a medical emergency.

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How is cardiac arrest monitored?

People must be admitted to the hospital after resuscitation to be monitored by medical personnel.

To determine what caused the cardiac arrest, diagnostic procedures such as electrocardiography, blood pressure monitors, and others will be performed. The person will be continuously observed and cared for until the reason is identified, and a treatment plan will be implemented.

Once the person is stable, doctors recommend that a cardioverter defibrillator, or an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD), be implanted to reduce the person’s chance of experiencing another cardiac arrest in the future.


  • ICD is a tiny device that is placed in the chest or abdomen.
  • It is made up of cables with electrodes that attach to the heart chambers and monitors the heartbeat.
  • If it detects any irregularities, it sends a regulated burst of impulses to the heart to stabilize the beat.
  • ICD implant surgery is a standard operation that may be done under general anesthesia. During surgery, insulated wires are put into veins near the collarbone and threaded to the heart with the use of imaging equipment.
  • Leads are then anchored to the heart, and other ends are connected to the generator, which is implanted just beneath the skin of the collarbone.

Can a person survive sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart stops beating suddenly owing to an arrhythmia. People who have experienced a past heart attack or have coronary artery disease are more likely to experience this. It is critical to understand your risk factors for SCA, such as whether you have a cardiac problem or a family history of SCA.

According to the American Heart Association, just 11 percent of people who have SCA live to be discharged from the hospital. After SCA, your chances of survival increase if you do the following:

  • The time elapsed between cardiac arrest and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is extremely brief. Instantaneous CPR increases the likelihood of survival by doubling or tripling it.
  • Survivors of SCA are more likely to experience neurological, psychosocial, and other health problems. If you or someone you care about has survived a cardiac arrest, there are resources to cope with the challenges that may occur as a result of the experience.

The prognosis for people with cardiac arrest is typically bad, with more than 9 out of 10 people dying before or during emergency medical care. Meanwhile, some of those who survive are in a permanent vegetative state or have brain damage and limited consciousness.

How can you prevent a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest can occur due to various circumstances. Factors may differ from one individual to the next. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a cardiac arrest might help you lower your chances of having one.

  • To avoid this disease, you should have frequent checkups and tests for cardiac abnormalities.
  • To preserve heart health, you must adopt and encourage some healthy behaviors, such as:
  • People who have or have had various cardiac diseases in the past should visit a doctor to enhance their health, which may entail:
    • Following a nutritious diet
    • Taking medications on time
    • Engaging in physical activity.

In the majority of instances, warning indicators are there beforehand, but they are frequently misinterpreted or ignored. Knowing the signs of cardiac arrest and heart problems, as well as knowing how to avoid them, can help you save yourself

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Medically Reviewed on 4/14/2022
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Causes of Cardiac Arrest: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-arrest/causes-of-cardiac-arrest

Cardiac Arrest: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/cardiac-arrest

What Is Cardiac Arrest? https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/cardiac-arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest: https://www.cardiosmart.org/topics/sudden-cardiac-arrest

Cardiac Arrest: https://utswmed.org/conditions-treatments/cardiac-arrest/