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Cardiac arrest is a serious cardiac event that is frequently confused with heart attack, but these two events are different. A cardiac arrest occurs when your heart stops pumping blood around the body. In a cardiac arrest you stop breathing and lose consciousness almost immediately.

A cardiac arrest is different to a heart attack. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease and don’t always lead to cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest is not always a result of coronary heart disease.

Learn how to perform CPR with St John Medical Director, Dr Tony Smith, in this video.

Learn how to perform CPR with St John Medical Director, Dr Tony Smith

Cardiac arrest can be caused by several things

The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation (VF). This is when the heart doesn’t beat with a normal rhythm. In VF, the electrical activity of the heart becomes erratic so that the heart quivers or ‘fibrillates’ instead of beating normally. VF can be caused by a number of different heart-related problems.

Click on the headings below to find out more about the heart problems that can cause VF.

A condition in which a fatty substance accumulates as plaque on the inside the coronary arteries. This plaque builds up over many years and the artery becomes narrower, stiffer and less smooth. This is known as atherosclerosis.
A combination of a blocked coronary artery, usually because of a coronary heart disease, and a clot. This leads to a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the heart muscle causing damage or death of the muscle.
A problem with the heart’s structure and function that is present at birth.
Refers to a number of disorders and diseases of the heart valves, which are the tissue flaps that regulate the flow of blood through the chambers of the heart.

Ventricular fibrillation can also happen as a result of:

  • Suffocation or choking
  • Electrocution
  • Loss of a lot of blood, i.e. hemorrhage

A cardiac arrest is an emergency. If you witness a cardiac arrest you should call 111 and start CPR immediately.

Did you know?

VF can sometimes be corrected by giving an electric shock through the chest wall, using a device called a defibrillator.

Learn CPR today

CPR can save lives. It stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation. CPR is an emergency lifesaving procedure that is performed when a person’s own breathing or heartbeat have stopped.

CPR is a combination of rescue breathing, which provides oxygen to the victim’s lungs, and chest compressions, which keep oxygenated blood circulating until an effective heartbeat and breathing can be restored.

By knowing and performing CPR you may save someone’s life. CPR is a lifesaving measure that should performed on someone who’s heart has stopped beating. Permanent brain damage or death can occur within minutes if blood flow stops. Therefore it is critical that blood flow and breathing be continued until an ambulance arrives.

Download the St John CPR mobile app for free from the iTunes Store, the Google Play Store or

Find out more

Learn about HEARTsafe

Continue the journey

What is a heart attack?
A heart attack is when blood stops flowing to part of your heart
Read more
How the heart works
Find out how this powerful muscle keeps you going
Read more

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