Ventricular Fibrillation
Sudden Irregular Heart Beat That Can Lead To Instant Death

Pictures of atrial fibs

fainting from ventricular fibrillation

Ventricular Fibrillation


What Is Ventricular Fibrillation?
What Causes It?
What Are The Signs And Symptoms?
How Is It Diagnosed?
How Is It Treated?

Related Articles:

Guide To Arrhythmias
Circulation System
What Is Ventricular Fibrillation?

Ventricular fibrillation (VF or v-fib for short) is a severely dangerous abnormal heart rate. One of the most lethal types of heart arrhythmia, it can lead to fainting and sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) within seconds. When it occurs (out of the blue), the lower pumping chambers of the heart (ventricles) flutter and twitch rather than beat in a disorganized manner. Although the heart rate may be high - as many as 300 beats a minute (double the usual pace) - the heartbeats or flutters are completely ineffective. As a result very little, if any, oxygenated blood is pumped around the body. Since the brain is highly sensitive to lack of oxygen, ventricular fibrillation quickly leads to lack of consciousness and SCA usually follows. SCA requires immediate medical help. Someone should call 911 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) immediately. Defibrillation (electric shock to the heart) with an automated external defibrillator (AED) found in many public places is usually essential to restore a regular heart rate. SCA results in death within 3 to 5 minutes unless defibrillation is given. Given this small window of opportunity, only about 5 percent of victims survive. Even if they do survive, they may be in coma or have long-term damage. Ventricular fibrillation accounts for 250,000 sudden deaths a year in America.

What Causes It?

The heart has an internal electrical system that controls how often the heart beats. When something goes wrong with this system it upsets the rhythm of the heartbeat (doctors call this condition an arrhythmia). While some arrhythmias are harmless, others, like ventricular fibrillation, are severe enough to cause death. So what interferes with the electrical system enough to cause ventricular fibrillation? The most common cause is a heart attack. During a heart attack the muscle of the heart is starved of oxygen and dies. The damage that occurs may be enough to upset the electrical system. Ventricular fibrillation can also be caused by other incidences that cause damage to the heart including:

• Electric shock.
• Drug overdose.
• Choking, a blockage in the throat can cause respiratory arrest so you can no longer breath.
• Heart diseases including cardiomyopathy and congestive heart failure.
• Anaphylactic shock, typically to peanuts.
• Drowning.
• Hypothermia.
• Loss of blood associated with a trauma such as a bad car accident.
• Heart surgery.
• Physical exertion. Sometimes younger victims of ventricular fibrillation have underlying blood vessel abnormalities which can trigger SCA during intense athletic or physical activity.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms?

Typically symptoms only occur a few minutes before collapse, although they can start up to an hour before. Warning signs include:

• Rapid heart rate
• Sudden chest pain
• Dizziness
• Nausea
• Shortness of breath

How Is It Diagnosed?

Ventricular fibrillation is always diagnosed in an emergency situation. For many people, the diagnosis comes tragically too late. Only those with instant access to medical care (usually those already in hospital) are likely to undergo a diagnostic procedure. A heart monitor will show that your heat is not beating, or beating erratically, and your pulse will be difficult to feel. Once treated, your doctors will want to find out what caused the abnormality in your heart rate. Additional tests will be ordered which may include one or more of the following:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)
• Blood test (c-reactive protein test) which can check for signs of a heart attack
Chest X-ray to check the sign and shape of your heart
Angiography to see if your coronary arteries are blocked.
MRI scan or CT scan.

How Is It Treated?

Emergency Treatment

If a person collapses at home and becomes unconscious:

1. Call 911.
2. While waiting for help, place the victims head and neck in line with the rest of their body to make breathing easier.
3. Start CPR chest compressions. Read also, how to do hand only CPR.
4. Continue CPR until the person recovers or emergency help arrives.
5. If you have access to an AED device, use it as soon as you can.

Treatment To Prevent Future Attacks

Medications and surgery may be recommended to control your heart rate in the future. Treatment may also be necessary to correct an underlying disorder.

Various antiarrhythmics can help maintain a regular heart rate in people at risk of ventricular fibrillation. They may also need to take beta blockers, calcium channel blockers or ACE inhibitors.

Medical Device
In addition to long-term medication, your doctor will recommend an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). This small device is inserted into the chest and attached with wires to the heart. If it detects an abnormal heart rate it automatically emits an electrical shock to 'reboot' the system. You may be issued with a Holter monitor or event monitor for a period of time to check that your device is working correctly.

In certain circumstances a cardiologist (heart surgeon) may recommend cardiac ablation. This surgery works by destroying or scaring heart tissue that is responsible for the irregular heart rate.

Families of those who have survived ventricular fibrillation should consider taking a course in CPR and purchasing a home defibrillator.

  Related Articles on Ventricular Fibrillation

For more advice, see the following:

When is CPR necessary? When and how to do it.
Causes of arrhythmias: Overview of causes.

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