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Emergency Care for Cardiac Arrest


Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical intervention. If you or someone you know is experiencing cardiac arrest symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. 

Dignity Health’s cardiac care team offers life-saving emergency care for cardiac arrest in the Bay Area.

Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

A person experiencing cardiac arrest will quickly lose consciousness and collapse. They will stop breathing, have no pulse, and will not respond to sound or touch. 

The most common cause of cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. Signs and symptoms of an arrhythmia include:

  • Fainting
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Feeling like your heart is pounding
  • Heart palpitations or an irregular heartbeat
  • Rapid or erratic pulse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Unusually slow pulse (fewer than 60 beats per minute)

Causes of Cardiac Arrest

A common cause of cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation. It causes the large chambers of the heart to stop beating in rhythm and instead begin to flutter or quiver. The heart muscle will eventually stop beating. Ventricular tachycardia, another common cause of cardiac arrest, occurs when the heart beats too fast to keep its rhythm.

Arrhythmias that trigger cardiac arrest can be caused by many different things, including:

  • Electrical abnormalities, such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome or Long QT syndrome
  • Prior heart attack or heart surgery that causes scarring of the cardiac tissue
  • Cardiomyopathy (enlarged heart) due to such conditions as high blood pressure, heart failure, or heart valve disease
  • Side effect of medications used to correct an abnormal heart rhythm
  • Severe dehydration or severe electrolyte imbalances
  • Drug abuse

Treatment & Prevention of Cardiac Arrest in the Bay Area

At Dignity Health, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive emergency treatment for cardiac arrest. Someone in cardiac arrest may survive if they get immediate treatment from emergency medical personnel. The emergency medical responder or doctor may use cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or an automated external defibrillator (AED).

To prevent possible cardiac arrest, your doctor may suggest that you:

  • Discuss the potential side effects any medication you take with your doctor, particularly drugs used to treat heart rhythm disorders. 
  • Treat and monitor any known heart condition, such as high blood pressure, heart valve disease, or arrhythmias. 
  • Do not use illicit drugs.
  • Engage in a heart-healthy lifestyle to avoid developing heart failure.
  • Get a heart examination before competing in sports.

To create a cardiac arrest prevention strategy, use our online Find a Doctor tool to find a Dignity Health doctor in the Bay Area.

Dignity Health is committed to providing prevention and treatment strategies for cardiac arrest in San Francisco, Santa Cruz, and Redwood City.