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Cardiac arrest symptoms, signs and emergency treatment

Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency might just save a life!

What is a cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body and you stop breathing normally. When your heart stops pumping blood, your brain is starved of oxygen. This causes you to fall unconscious and stop breathing, so a cardiac arrest is always considered to be a serious health emergency.

Knowing what to do in the event of an emergency could save someone's life. Ashleigh Li, Senior Cardiac Nurse at British Heart Foundation, offers expert tips on what to do if someone is in cardiac arrest:

Cardiac arrest and heart attack: what's the difference?

Many people use the terms cardiac arrest and heart attack interchangeably, but a heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest. Many cardiac arrests in adults happen becausethe person is having a heart attack. 

Many cardiac arrests in adults happen because the person is having a heart attack.

'A heart attack is when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked by a blood clot, and means the heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply,’ says Li. ‘If left untreated, the heart muscle will begin to die because it is not getting enough oxygen. This is a circulation problem, and the person will probably be conscious.’

‘A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body,’ Li adds. ‘Unlike a heart attack, the person will be unconscious and not breathing or not breathing normally. A cardiac arrest is an electrical problem within the heart, and requires immediate CPR and defibrillation as soon as possible.’

⚠️ Both a heart attack and a cardiac arrest are emergency situations, so if you believe you or someone else might be experiencing either, call emergency services on 999 immediately.

What are the signs of a cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest often comes on very suddenly and the symptoms tend to be drastic. Here’s what to look out for:

❤️ Loss of consciousness

❤️ Sudden collapse

❤️ Lack of pulse

❤️ No breathing

The symptoms leading up to this include feeling fatigued, dizziness, vomiting, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations.

What causes a cardiac arrest?

Arrhythmias: This is an abnormality in your heart beat, due to a problem in the heart’s electrical system.

Coronary artery disease: When the heart’s blood supply is blocked by fatty substances in the coronary arteries.

Heart valve disease: If one of the valves in the heart is damaged, it can affect the blood flow and increase the risk of an arrhythmia.

❗️Risk factors for all of these health concerns include: smoking, obesity, drug taking, high blood pressure, and family history of heart disease.

What to do if someone is in cardiac arrest

If you witness a cardiac arrest, call 999 and start CPR immediately. Li recommends the following steps if you think someone might be in cardiac arrest:

Step 1: Shake the person to see if they respond and shout for help.

Step 2: Check for normal breathing.

Step 3: Call 999.

Step 4: Give 30 short, sharp chest compressions.

Step 5: Give two rescue breaths.

Step 6: Repeat compressions and rescue breaths until an ambulance arrives.

What about a defibrillator?

If you come across someone who is in cardiac arrest, call 999 and start CPR as specified above. It is also worth finding out if there is an automated external defibrillator(AED) in the vicinity. An AED is a device that gives a high energy electric shock to the heart through the chest wall to someone who is in cardiac arrest.

If you come across someone who is in cardiac arrest, call 999 and start CPR.

There are numerous defibrillators available in public places such as airports and leisure centres and they can be life saving, so in the event of an emergency it is worth asking if there is one nearby. Most defibrillators come with spoken instructions and on screen diagrams to help you.

Can you recover from cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is reversible for most people if it's treated within a few minutes, so it's worth understanding what to do in the event of an emergency. ‘There are over 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK every year,’ says Li, ‘and sadly less than one in 10 people survive them.’


Everyone should at least know the basics of CPR and how to help someone in distress.

Croí has established the National Institute for Preventive Cardiology (NIPC) which delivers a range of certified courses in lifesaving skills, including resuscitation and dealing with life-threatening emergencies such as choking. For healthcare professionals, training of this nature is usually mandatory and the NIPC offers you an internationally recognised qualification. However, over two thirds of emergencies, such as cardiac arrest or choking, happen outside of hospitals and occur in people's homes, in community places and schools and in the vast majority of cases with a bystander present. Whether you are a parent, a school teacher or a member of the general public being equipped with the necessary skills can mean the difference between life and death. By taking the time to learn about resuscitation and life-saving skills, you could save someone's life.

We all know that you can bring somebody back from apparent death if you use CPR but not many people know what those letters stand for and if you read on you will find out, but first of all do you think you would be able to do it? Do you think you have had enough training? I shall try to encourage you by putting this frightful scenario for you to consider. You take your children for a walk in the countryside and you are a little away from civilisation when your 10-year-old suddenly feels unwell and soon after collapses on the grass, you’re on your own so you send your 12-year-old to look for help,you are beginning to panic, you open the little lads shirt and look helplessly at his chest.

You know you have to do something and you have seen enough television to give you a clue as to what to do, so you breathe some air into his mouth and watch for his chest to rise, nothing, then you realise you were not holding his nose closed, the next time success so you start pressing down on his chest just like you have seen on the television, you are so relieved when you see your son coming back with another person.

Your mind starts questioning, he's very young, he can't be more than 17, but it turns out he knew exactly what to do he had done a course in CPR before he left school and not only that but he had already telephoned the emergency services.

In less than 10 minutes the air ambulance was landing a little way away and the crew were taking over, a short while later mother and Sons were on their way to the nearest hospital.

We have not yet heard if there is anything seriously wrong with Jeff but we are confident that he is getting the best possible treatment and Billy can tell of his helicopter ride tomorrow in school.
Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation

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