Definition and Overview
Cardiology or cardiovascular emergencies are some of the most serious medical conditions that can lead to a wide variety of complications including death. These affect the functions of the heart preventing it to perform its task, which is to pump and move blood through the body. As cardiology emergency situations are potentially life-threatening, receiving immediate medical attention is crucial.
Medical conditions that are categorized as cardiology emergency kill over 300,000 adults every year in the United States alone. Sudden cardiac death, a condition that involves a sudden loss of cardiac function, accounts for almost half of all cardiovascular disease-related fatalities.
A sudden cardiac death is different from a myocardial infarction or a heart attack, which can occur when there is a blockage in one or more cardiac arteries. In a heart attack, the organ is unable to receive enough oxygen-rich blood, which then results in heart damage. On the other hand, a sudden cardiac arrest involves heart malfunction, which means that the electrical system powering the heart is damaged. The organ beats so fast and fails to efficiently deliver blood to the rest of the body. This condition prevents blood from reaching the brain, and in just a few moments, blood flow to the head will be drastically reduced that the patient will lose consciousness. Unless emergency treatment is immediately performed, the patient can expire in a matter of minutes.
However, it’s crucial to note that not all cardiology emergencies involve sudden cardiac arrest. In many patients, a heart attack, which is often caused by coronary artery disease, is the cause of the cardiac emergency situation.
Cardiology emergencies can be life-threatening, with only sixty percent of people who experience it living to fight another day. With emergency treatment, patients have better chances of surviving.
Cause of Condition
Below are two cardiac conditions classified as emergencies and their causes:
Sudden cardiac arrest. This condition is caused by an abnormality in the rhythm of the heart, known as arrhythmias. There are different types of arrhythmias, but the most life-threatening is known as ventricular fibrillation. This type involves an erratic—most medical professionals describe this erratic rhythm as disorganized—firing of impulses from the lower chambers of the heart, which are also known as ventricles. The patient is often unable to feel this irregularity in cardiac contraction, and the only way to diagnose these arrhythmias is to undergo an electrocardiography procedure. In cases of sudden cardiac arrest caused by ventricular arrhythmias, the patient must immediately undergo Advanced Life Support intervention. When left untreated for even a couple of minutes, the patient will go into asystole, also known as a flatline, as the blood circulation will immediately cease. Many cases of sudden cardiac arrest and death also occur in patients who have suffered a prior heart attack, which has scarred the muscles in the ventricles.
Heart attack. A heart attack is commonly caused by coronary artery disease, which involves blockages—calcium or fatty deposits—building up in the arteries leading to the heart. There are many factors that can increase an individual’s risk of having a heart attack, including the following:
- High cholesterol levels in the blood
- Poor diet choices that are rich in salt and fat
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive intake of alcohol
- Having diabetes
- Having high blood pressure
Coronary artery disease is more common in men than women.
Aside from chest pains and breathing difficulty, cardiology emergencies often exhibit the following symptoms:
Sudden cardiac arrest. Ventricular arrhythmia typically does not produce symptoms that can alert the patient about the condition early on. The only way to have it diagnose is by undergoing an electrocardiography procedure. However, a sudden cardiac arrest episode is often signalled by the following symptoms:
- A racing or palpitating heartbeat
It is important to note that in over half of the annually recorded cases of sudden cardiac arrest, the patients did not feel any prior symptoms.
Heart attack. Common symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Chest pains, typically on the left side or the centre of the chest
- Discomfort, which can travel from the chest to the back, neck, shoulder, arm, or jaw
- Discomfort that feels like a heartburn
- Sudden feeling of tiredness
- Cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling faint
Who to See and Types of Treatment Available
When faced with a cardiology emergency, it is best to call for emergency medical services such as 911 in the United States or 999 in the United Kingdom. The emergency medical responders are trained in providing immediate treatment and Advanced Life Support intervention.
Aspirin is often provided as first aid treatment for a person suffering from a heart attack. The patient might also be given supplemental oxygen to prevent oxygen deprivation in the brain and blood stream. Further treatment, such as angioplasty or thrombolysis can be given to the patient after emergency treatment has been provided.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “Heart Attack”
- Heart.org: “Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How are they different?”
- United States National Library of Medicine: “Ventricular Fibrillation”