Cardiac Arrest: The Alarming Signs and Symptoms

Each year, around 25,000 Australian people suffer a cardiac arrest out of hospital. Sadly, less than 5% of these people make it out of hospital and return home. This is an alarming statistic for any Australian reading this, and that’s why we’ve written this comprehensive guide that delves into the critical aspects of cardiac arrest, including its signs, symptoms, and emergency response measures. Awareness and prompt action can be lifesaving so that you or the people around live the life they deserve. (1)

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is sudden and life-threatening. It is the unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness, typically resulting from an electrical disturbance in the heart. This disturbance disrupts the heart’s pumping action, halting blood flow to the body and ultimately stopping heart beats. This means that your vital organs, like your brain, are starved of oxygen, causing the loss of consciousness. (2)

Cardiac arrest is often mistaken for a heart attack, but they are fundamentally different. While a heart attack is caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart, cardiac arrest is primarily an electrical issue that stops the heart from functioning. (3)

Cardiac arrest can strike suddenly and without warning, and immediate treatment is critical. Understanding the difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack is crucial, as the treatment for each is different. Recognising the signs and knowing how to respond can significantly improve the chances of survival.

What are the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest?

The symptoms of cardiac arrest are immediate and alarming. It will often occur without warning and cause the following:

  • Sudden Collapse: The person will suddenly lose consciousness and fall to the ground.

  • No Pulse or Breathing: There will be no signs of a pulse or normal breathing. You may notice abnormal gasps for air.

  • Loss of Responsiveness: The person won’t respond to any stimuli, including verbal communication or physical touch. (4)

Unlike a heart attack, where symptoms can vary and develop over time, the signs of cardiac arrest are sudden. It’s essential to act immediately if you suspect someone is experiencing cardiac arrest. Every minute counts, and understanding these signs can mean the difference between life and death.

What to Do in the Case of a Cardiac Arrest?

In the event of a cardiac arrest, every minute counts. Without a rapid response, a person in cardiac arrest will not survive. These are the steps to take:

  • Call for Emergency Help: Immediately dial 000 for emergency services and request an ambulance. Quick medical intervention is crucial.

  • Start CPR: If you are trained, begin chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute. If you’re not trained, a 000 operator can guide you through the process.

  • Use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED): If available, use an AED as soon as possible. Anyone can use an AED as the device will guide you through the process with voice prompts. (5)

The person responding to a cardiac arrest should continue CPR until paramedics arrive. This immediate and continued action can significantly increase the chances of survival. Studies have shown that early CPR and defibrillation can double or triple a cardiac arrest victim’s chance of survival. (6)

Who is at Risk of Cardiac Arrest?

There are many lifestyle and genetic factors that increase the risk of cardiac arrest. Some important ones to be aware of are:

  • Existing Heart Conditions: People with coronary heart disease, heart attack history, heart failure, arrhythmias, or congenital heart defects are at higher risk.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and high cholesterol can contribute to the risk.
  • Age: Unfortunately, as our age increases, so too does our risk of a cardiac arrest. People under the age of 30 very rarely suffer a cardiac arrest.
  • Family History: A family history of cardiac arrest or heart disease increases the likelihood.
  • Sex: Men are more likely to suffer a cardiac arrest. However, a woman’s risk increases after menopause. (7)

It’s important to understand these risk factors and discuss them with your healthcare provider. Regular heart health check-ups can help identify potential risks early.

It’s also important to understand what activity and behaviours may trigger or contribute to a sudden cardiac arrest, especially for those already at risk. This include:

  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Intense physical exertion
  • Recent use of recreational drugs like cocaine and amphetamines
  • Drinking excessive amounts of caffeine
  • Severe emotional stress
  • Influenza (8)

How to Prevent Cardiac Arrest?

Preventing cardiac arrest involves managing risk factors, especially those associated with coronary heart disease as this is the main risk factor for such an event. This includes:

  • Heart Health Monitoring: Regular check-ups are essential, especially for those with a history of heart conditions.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: A balanced diet, regular exercise, and avoiding smoking can significantly reduce the risk.
  • Managing Chronic Conditions: Effectively controlling diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels is crucial. (7)

Preventive measures can significantly reduce the risk of cardiac arrest and improve overall heart health and wellbeing.


Cardiac arrest is a severe and life-threatening condition that requires immediate action. Recognising the signs and knowing what to do can save lives. Regular health check-ups, a healthy lifestyle, and understanding your risk factors are key to prevention. Stay informed and prepared – it could make all the difference in an emergency.

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Our team consistently oversees developments in the health and wellness sector, ensuring our articles are updated with the latest information as soon as it emerges.

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