While speculation continues around why pop star Michael Jackson suffered cardiac arrest and died at the age of 50, it should be pointed out that it's not an uncommon condition.
Cardiac arrest occurs when disorganised electrical signals make the bottom chamber of the heart, the ventricles, quiver instead of beat normally. This is called ventricular fibrillation, or V-fib. Without the ventricles pumping blood out to the body, a person will lose consciousness within seconds and will die within minutes.
To prevent death, the condition must be treated immediately with defibrillation, an electric shock to the heart. V-fib may happen during or after a heart attack, or in a heart that is already weak because of another condition.
Health experts think that most of the sudden cardiac deaths that occur every year (about 335,000 in the USA alone) are due to v-fib.
Watch this YouTube video to see what ventricular defibrillation looks like:
What happens when a patient is defibrillated?
- The defibrillator consists of two paddles, 12cm in diameter, which are placed in firm contact with the chest wall.
- One paddle is placed to the right of the breast bone (sternum) at the level of the second rib.
- The other paddle is placed on the left side of the chest at the level of the fifth rib centrally between the breast bone and the end of the collar bone (clavicle).
- The paddles are connected to a device which delivers an electrical current at varying energies.
- The amount of energy delivered varies according to the type of arrhythmia.
- If the first attempt at defibrillation fails, all repeated attempts should be at the maximum energy that the defibrillator can deliver.
(Health24 team, June 2009)
National Institutes of Health