Cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac arrest refers to the heartbeat’s permanent or temporary cessation. This failure of the heart to pump blood through the body is dangerous and life threatening if left untreated. Each day, nearly 1000 Americans suffer from sudden cardiac arrest—most of these people are away from the hospital. More than 95 percent of them die, in many cases, because life-saving defibrillators arrive too late, if at all. The American Heart Association estimates that automatic external defibrillators (AED), if more readily available, could save 20,000 or more lives.
Sudden cardiac arrest can lead to sudden cardiac death, which claims an estimated 250,000 lives each year, and, in the United States, is the leading cause of death. Abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias cause most sudden cardiac arrests. Ventrical fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia that causes cardiac arrest, in which the heart’s electrical impulses to become suddenly chaotic, often without warning. This condition causes the heart to stop suddenly. Sufferers collapse and quickly lose consciousness. Death usually follows unless responders restore a normal heart rhythm. If a person does survive, they have an 80 percent chance of a one year survival, and as much as a 57 percent survival for five years following the attack.
Emergency medical teams receive trained to revive people from cardiac arrest by using the paddles of external defibrillators to apply strong electrical shocks to the chest. These shocks can pass through to the heart, which stops the erratic electrical activity, and allows the heart to return to a more regular rhythm.
Researchers and experts do no fully understand the cause of sudden cardiac arrest. Many victims have no history of heart disease. It can even happen to healthy people in the prime of their life.