Guide To Arrhythmias
|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.
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:
Typically symptoms only occur a few minutes before collapse, although they can start up to an hour before. Warning signs include:
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:
Families of those who have survived ventricular fibrillation should consider taking a course in CPR and purchasing a home defibrillator.
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