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Cardiac arrest facts for kids

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Cardiac arrest happens when the heart suddenly stops beating. This can be caused by a heart attack in which the heart's demand for oxygen is not met and the heart muscle begins to die. With cardiac arrest, normal circulation of blood stops, because of a failure of the heart to contract. This results in the body not getting enough oxygenated blood, which causes cells to start to die from oxygen starvation. Cerebral hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the brain) makes a person lose consciousness and stop breathing, and this makes the heart stop completely. Unless the person is in hypothermia, brain damage usually occurs after three to five minutes. (In some cases, the person is put into hypothermia on purpose, to help the person recover better with less damage.)

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. If it is treated early enough, some of the damage done can be reversed in certain groups of patients. When cardiac arrest leads to a person's death, this is called sudden cardiac death (SCD). First aid treatment for cardiac arrest usually begins with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to keep oxygenated blood flowing until medical treatment is available.

Risk factors

Major risk factors for cardiac arrest include age and underlying cardiovascular disease. A prior episode of sudden cardiac arrest increases the likelihood of future episodes.

Additional significant risk factors include cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, history of arrhythmia, lack of physical exercise, obesity, diabetes, family history, cardiomyopathy, alcohol use, and possibly caffeine intake. Current cigarette smokers with coronary artery disease were found to have a two to threefold increase in the risk of sudden death between ages 30 and 59. Furthermore, it was found that former smokers' risk was closer to that of those who had never smoked.


Basic representation of cardiac conduction
Conduction of the heart. Changes in this pattern can result from injury to the cardiac muscle and lead to non-conducted beats and ultimately cardiac arrest.
Ventricular fibrillation
EKG depiction of ventricular fibrillation (no organized rhythm)

Common cardiac causes include coronary artery disease, non-atherosclerotic coronary artery abnormalities, structural heart damage, and inherited arrhythmias. Common non-cardiac causes include respiratory arrest, diabetes, medications, and trauma.


Carotidian pulse and recovery position
Medical personnel checking the carotid pulse of a simulated patient

The physical examination to diagnose cardiac arrest focuses on the absence of a pulse. In many cases, lack of a central pulse is the gold standard. Lack of a pulse may also result from other conditions (e.g. shock) or be the rescuer's misinterpretation.

During resuscitation efforts, continuous monitoring equipment including EKG leads should be attached to the patient so that providers can analyze the electrical activity of the cardiac cycle and use this information to guide the management efforts.

Owing to the inaccuracy diagnosis solely based off central pulse detection, some bodies like the European Resuscitation Council have de-emphasized its importance. Instead, the current guidelines prompt individuals to begin CPR on any unconscious person with absent or abnormal breathing.

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See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Paro cardiorrespiratorio para niños

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