Cardiac arrest causes and symptoms

Cardiac arrest causes and symptoms

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A Cardiac arrest threatens life and many people of all ages and genders die of it. No more blood flows through the vessels and the blood circulation stops. The organs no longer receive oxygen, and therefore death sets in after a few minutes. 100,000 people die from this sudden cardiac death in Germany every year.

Heart failure is shown by a missing pulse. After three seconds the person becomes dizzy, after 30 seconds they lose consciousness, after two minutes their breath stops, after four minutes the brain suffers damage because it no longer receives oxygen.

Cardiac arrest Immediate measures: what to do?

Laypeople are often afraid of resuscitation because they fear they might do something wrong. They have to act immediately, because a heart-lung squeeze is the only way to supply the heart and organs with oxygen. So it saves life. In an emergency, the following three points should be considered:

  1. Call an emergency doctor: First, the emergency call must be called. To determine whether the victim is passed out, we speak to him and shake his shoulder. If he does not respond, we call the emergency services.
  2. Check breathing: Secondly, we check whether the person concerned is breathing. To do this, we push his head back and hold our ear to his mouth. If he doesn't breathe, wheeze, or gasp, we start resuscitation.
  3. Carry out a cardiac massage: Third, we do the chest compressions. To do this, we kneel to the side of the unconscious and place both balls of our hands on the middle of the sternum. We press the chest down quickly, at least 100 times a minute, without stopping.

Carry out a cardiac massage

After the person concerned has been checked and the emergency doctor called, one should Cardiac massage be performed if no pulse or no breathing can be determined. According to the Malteser Hilfsdienst, the best method is to combine cardiac massage with mouth-to-mouth ventilation. To do this, proceed as follows:

  1. Place both hands on top of each other on the middle of the patient's chest.
  2. Push vertically on the chest so that the chest is lowered by approximately six centimeters.
  3. Press around 30 times - frequency should be approximately 100 times per minute.
  4. After pressing 30 times, switch to mouth-to-mouth ventilation.
  5. To do this, close the person's nose with their fingers.
  6. Blow air twice into the victim's mouth so that the chest rises.
  7. Then switch back to pressing.
  8. Repeat points one to seven until the emergency services arrive.

Cardiac arrest causes

Cardiac arrest often follows a heart attack, but it can also result from a weak heart, a failure of the sinus node or an electric shock. Cardiac arrest is often preceded by ventricular fibrillation: the heart muscles contract quickly but uncoordinated without pumping.

Cardiac arrest has many causes. The heart rhythm is often disturbed, which means that the heart beats irregularly or in the wrong order. Medications, blood loss, the shock after an accident, an electric shock, excessive exercise without appropriate training or stress can also cause cardiac arrest.


Cardiac arrest must be diagnosed immediately, otherwise the affected person is dead after a few minutes. Fortunately, the diagnosis is simple and can be recognized by the following conditions. If all three points apply, the cardiac arrest has occurred.

  • unconsciousness: The person affected is no longer accessible and lies motionless on the floor.
  • breathlessness: The patient is no longer breathing.
  • Pulse is missing: A pulse can no longer be determined in those affected.


The person affected needs immediate treatment because when the heart stops, it no longer supplies the brain and all organs with oxygen. The blood circulation stops and no more blood gets to the vessels.

When the paramedics arrive, they use a defibrillator. It sends electric shocks to the heart and often it starts to beat again. The cardiac massage is continued so that no parts of the body die.

If the patient survives, he first comes to a clinic. Doctors are investigating the cause of the cardiac arrest and the risk of it repeating itself.


Cardiac arrest cannot always be prevented. People who lead a “healthy life”, that is, eat a balanced diet and exercise a lot, also die from heart failure. However, obesity, smoking and alcohol increase the risk of cardiac arrest.

Excessive use of drugs that keep the body awake beyond normal levels to dance the night away, like ecstasy or cocaine, greatly increases the risk of cardiac arrest. Warning signs such as rapid heartbeat are known to chronic consumers, but they mostly suppress the risk of sudden death.

Heart disease has often already occurred, for example, hidden heart attacks, heart weakness or coronary heart disease. Prevention means pre-examination, which means checking your heart regularly with a doctor.

It is important to pay attention to symptoms that precede cardiac arrest. This includes severe pain behind the breastbone, pressure on the chest, difficulty breathing and a feeling of tightness in the chest. If we feel these signs, we should call an emergency doctor immediately.

Even if we sometimes get black before our eyes without knowing why, there may be a heart problem. While these symptoms can have other harmless and less harmless causes, we should take them seriously.

Breathlessness in sleep

Snoring not only disturbs the person next to the bed, it can also damage the brain, namely if there is sleep apnea syndrome that is manifested by irregular snoring with long breaks.

Breathing always stops during sleep. Especially people over the age of 60 have this problem. This cessation of breath is probably due to creeping cell death. The older we get, the fewer PreBötC cells the body has. These are signaling cells, and when they disappear, the risk of breathing stopping while sleeping increases.

People with acute sleep apnea can help themselves with overpressure. To do this, they put on a mask that regulates breathing during sleep.

Cardiac arrest in sports

The ancient Greek armies won the marathon over the outnumbered Persians. According to legend, a runner, sometimes with the name Thersippos, sometimes Pheidippides, ran over 40 km to announce the victory to the Athenians. Then he collapsed dead.

The story began long after the battle, and similar myths of heroic runners circulated all over Greece - it is probably a moralizing narrative to set an example for the gun runners in Athens.

The fable proves, however, that death from cardiac arrest in extreme sports was well known to the Greeks, because this is what sudden cardiac death looks like in athletes who exceed their physical limits.

Sudden heart failure, for example, rarely occurs in professional soccer players, but it is part of their professional dangers.

Competitive sports increase the risk of cardiac arrest fourfold, because physical exertion is one of the factors for a disturbance of the heart rhythm, especially if the person already suffers from hidden heart problems. However, this does not apply to regular exercise at a low level, because it reduces the risk of cardiac arrest.

So if you suffer from shortness of breath during football training, feel pressure on your chest, or if you become “giddy”, you should take the warnings seriously. If he has cardiovascular diseases, this sport is not for him.

“Old school” coaches, who think that the person concerned has to “kick someone's ass”, play with the lives of those entrusted to them, and such macho attitudes are probably even more widespread in the district league than in professional sports, where the training has at least a sports science basis.

Cardiac arrest in football became an issue after national player Gregory Mertens lost consciousness in a game in Belgium and a defibrillator did not prevent him from having to go into an artificial coma in the clinic.

In 2012 Fabrice Muamba of the Bolton Wanderers met the quarter-finals in England. A defibrillator and chest compressions made his heart beat again after 78 minutes. However, the Italian Piermario Morosini died of cardiac arrest during a second division game.

The risk for amateurs is just as great as in the National League, but defibrillators are often missing on site and there is no doctor nearby. FIFA therefore calls for defibrillators for every stadium. A device that is also suitable for laypersons increases the chances of survival from 5 to 75%.

The greatest risk is for golfers. On the one hand, they are on average much older than other athletes, so the risk of heart disease is already high, on the other hand, playing golf is associated with an enormous amount of physical effort and mental concentration, which the people affected often underestimate.

Today there are defibrillators for laypersons that only need eight seconds to pass the energy on to the body. Nobody has to read an instruction manual. The device tells the helper what to do. The defibrillator independently analyzes whether treatment is necessary - using electrodes that are applied to the body. Modern defibrillators also automatically notify emergency services.

People who make radical lifestyle changes while getting rid of an addiction are particularly at risk. Former heroin addicts or dry alcoholics sometimes fall into the opposite extreme and do fanatic sports to revitalize their bodies and psyche. If they overdo it, add a new factor to the old cardiac arrest factor: they overload your cardiovascular system, which is weakened by drugs.

Dry alcoholics are therefore well advised to start sport slowly and to be accompanied by a coach, regardless of whether they do weight training or go jogging. This is especially true because former addicts lost the feeling that what is good for their body and did not perceive the signals.

But even people without a previous load should exercise competitive sports carefully. Taking part in the New York Marathon can be valuable self-awareness, but doing too much can also be fatal. Preventing cardiac arrest means preparing yourself - not excessively, but regularly.

Promotions with heart failure

The most famous victim of cardiac arrest is Michael Jackson. The “King of Pop” died at the age of 50. Helpers tried to reanimate him - without success. At UCLA Medical Center, the doctors kept him going for an hour, but Jackson died.

Brian Oxman, one of Michael's lawyers, suspected early on that the singer had swallowed a lethal dose of prescription medication. He would have warned him beforehand. Oxman compared Jackson's death to the end of Anna Nicole Smith, who had also died from a drug overdose.

In December 2009, actress Brittany Murphy died in the shower. Brittany took drugs, and she suffered from anorexia, both of which increase the risk of cardiac arrest. She was only 32 years old.

In 2015, Udo Jürgens collapsed at the age of 80 when he went for a walk. Diagnosis: acute cardiac arrest.

British singer Pete Doherty is notorious for his drug excesses. He also suffered a cardiac arrest and said: “If I had not been connected to a heart-lung machine, I would have been in Ireland. But my heart skipped. It was all pretty weird. The doctors said that everything had to do with drugs, but it wasn't. It was a kind of poisoning. What's happened? I don't know ... At first I waved my hands around wildly - and then, everything stopped. My body practically stopped. ”

Porn actress Carolin Ebert, better known as "Sexy Cora", died of cardiac arrest during breast surgery. The prosecutor's office investigated the responsible anesthetist and surgeon for negligent homicide.

The clinic denied responsibility: the blood picture and EKG had been examined, they had informed the patient about the risks and, moreover, the cardiac arrest had started before the actual operation. However, the court found the accused guilty.

Freeze therapy when the heart is stopped

A new therapy is supposed to help against cardiac arrest by “deeply cooling” the patient, that is, the body temperature is reduced to 10 degrees Celsius.

The Swedish doctor Anna Bagenholm, who suffered a skiing accident in 1999, came up with the idea for this new therapy. She fell down a mountain and broke into ice, her body was in melt water. She suffered “cold death”. But the emergency doctors warmed them up again and the heart began to beat.

Peter Rhee from the University of Arizona developed a procedure with which he wants to extend the phase between life and death in the seriously injured. It freezes the body down to 10 degrees Celsius and usually wins valuable minutes to treat the wounds.

If the cardiac massage fails, Rhee would like to use his technique. To do this, he first opens his chest and shoves a cannula into the aorta, which presses a cold saline solution into the bloodstream. As a result, the cells stop working and are preserved from the cold.

Rhee says there would be an hour more to treat the patient. Then a heart-lung machine warms up the body and pumps warm blood into the body.

Other doctors doubt the success of this “shock freeze”. In Germany, however, patients are “cooled” for resuscitation, but only to 32 degrees Celsius.

In Germany there are ethical problems in carrying out the therapy. After all, it is an artificially induced “temporary death” of the cells, which the unconscious sufferer cannot agree to in the situation.

Freeze therapy, however, shows that medicine also has untapped perspectives when it comes to cardiac arrest: heart attacks and heart failure are much less risky today than a few decades ago, and hopeful cardiac death, which seems more fateful than any other end, can hopefully be resolved Avoid the future better than we imagine today.

Myth of sudden cardiac death

Sudden cardiac death has been the most mysterious cause of death for millennia. The ancient cultures saw it as a wrath of the gods who avenged the victim for a wrongdoing, and in the witch craze of the early modern age the persecutors hallucinated the damage magic of a witch at work. In fact, hardly any death happens so unforeseen: people who seem to be in full bloom suddenly collapse - and a few minutes later they are dead. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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ICD codes for this disease: I46ICD codes are internationally valid encryption for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: What is a cardiac arrest? (February 2023).