Cardiac Arrest
Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac Arrest Diagnosis

Cardiac arrests usually occur in people’s homes, where no healthcare provider is present to make a diagnosis. When first responders arrive and start treatment, they will see that the person is unconscious, not breathing, and does not respond to shouting or shaking. They will not be able to find a pulse. A heart imaging test called an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) will show a severe ventricular arrythmia or no heartbeat at all. These are all symptoms of cardiac arrest.

Sometimes a person is in the hospital when cardiac arrest occurs. Medical monitoring can alert hospital staff to abnormal heart rhythms or breathing problems.

Most often, cardiac arrest is diagnosed after it occurs. Healthcare providers do this by ruling out other causes of a person’s collapse.

After cardiac arrest

After you have a cardiac arrest, first responders will ask witnesses what they saw. The emergency room doctor will do a physical exam and check your medical history and your family history. The doctor will also order tests to assess your condition. Test results can also help you and your doctor set up a treatment plan to reduce your risk of death or complications.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests 
  • Heart tests such as cardiac event monitoring, stress testing, and imaging tests
  • Genetic testing: Some genes changes increase the risk of cardiac arrest. If you have survived a cardiac arrest, your provider may order genetic tests for you and your blood relatives, depending on your family history.
  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Electrophysiology (EP) study: An EP study is like an ECG that is done inside your heart. The doctor inserts long thin wires into a vein in the groin and then passes the wires into the heart. The wires measure the heart’s electrical activity. Learn more about electrophysiology studies.

Some gene changes are linked with fatal cardiac arrests

Up to 1 in 5 people who died of unexplained cardiac arrest had genes linked with heart problems, such as inherited cardiomyopathies or arrhythmias.


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