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Cardiac arrest: Know the symptoms and how to respond

Fewer than 10 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest survive. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops suddenly without warning. When that happens, the patient can suffer brain damage or even die within a few minutes. Because of that, it’s critical to immediately begin hands only CPR and/or use an automated external defibrillator. Of course, call 911 as soon as possible.

The symptoms of cardiac arrest include chest pain or discomfort, irregular or rapid heartbeat, palpitations, nausea or vomiting, shortness of breath, dizziness, and fainting or near fainting. These symptoms may begin a few hours before a cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is caused by abnormal or irregular heart rhythms called arrhythmias.

The most common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the heart's lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and don't pump blood.

Cardiac arrest is not the same as having a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, refers to death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply, not necessarily resulting in the death of the victim.

Symptoms of heart attack include severe pressure and discomfort in the chest, as well as chest pain with shortness of breath, sweating, nausea, dizziness, weakness and/or irregular pulse. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911. It could make all the difference.

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