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cardiac arrest

cardiac arrest Cardiac: pertaining to the heart. Arrest: stop. Cardiac arrest: previously equated with death, but since the advent of modern resuscitation methods, an emergency well known to viewers of hospital soaps. When the heart stops, and the circulating blood therefore comes to a standstill, that part of the brain which allows conscious function has only a few minutes to survive. The heart stops beating if the pacemaker-generated rhythm is halted, or if conduction of the electrical impulses is disrupted, sending the muscle of the ventricles — the heart's pumps — into the irregular and useless twitching state of fibrillation. If the instrument and the expertise are available, electric shocks are administered with a defibrillator, which may or may not restore a normal electrical rhythm and hence a regular beat. When this amenity is not at hand, or access to it is delayed, the first aid measure is external cardiac massage, consisting of rhythmic pressure on the chest, at the lower end of the sternum. By squeezing the heart against the spinal column, this can temporarily restore circulation of the blood. Since breathing is likely to have stopped at the same time, or very soon after, the heart beat, attention must be divided between cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth respiration.

Stuart Judge


See defibrillator; heart; heart attack; resuscitation.

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cardiac arrest

cardiac arrest n. the cessation of effective pumping action of the heart, which may be because the heart stops beating altogether (asystole), because there is normal electrical activity without mechanical pumping activity (pulseless electrical activity), or because there is rapid, chaotic, electrical and mechanical activity (ventricular fibrillation). There is abrupt loss of consciousness, absence of the pulse, and breathing stops. Unless treated promptly, irreversible brain damage and death follow within minutes. Some patients may be resuscitated by massage of the heart, artificial ventilation, and defibrillation.

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