The mid-game collapse of footballer Fabrice Muamba has received massive press attention this week, as the 23-year-old was left in a critical condition after his heart stopped beating. The Bolton Wanderers midfielder collapsed during an FA Cup tie against Tottenham and needed urgent medical attention to restart his heart.
Since his collapse on Saturday, Muamba has been treated at the London Chest Hospital, where his condition has improved. He has now regained consciousness and is reported to be comfortable, although medics are still monitoring his health. The exact cause of Muamba's cardiac arrest has not been revealed.
A great deal of newspaper coverage has centred on the potential risk of serious hidden heart problems among young people. However, these types of collapses and conditions are not common and the public’s awareness of them is often higher when they occur in a high-profile setting, such as during televised sport.
What is a cardiac arrest?
A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. The immediate cause of this is usually an abnormal heart rhythm, called ventricular fibrillation. This occurs when the electrical activity of the heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops its normal rhythmic beating and quivers instead. Someone who has a cardiac arrest loses consciousness almost at once, and it is vital that their heart is restarted as soon as possible to ensure they survive. This will often require the use of an electronic device called a defibrillator to shock the heart back into normal beating.
A cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack, which occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a section of heart muscle suddenly becomes blocked. If blood flow isn't restored quickly, the section of heart muscle begins to die. A heart attack usually happens because of coronary heart disease.
A cardiac arrest may also be caused by the loss of large amounts of blood or fluid, lack of oxygen, the body being very hot or cold, and a blood clot in the lungs or arteries. A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest in some cases.
What is cardiopulmonary resuscitation?
A sudden stoppage of the heart can cause permanent damage to other organs and it is vital that blood flow is restored quickly. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is an essential technique that is used to prevent permanent damage or even death. In CPR, the heart is pumped by external cardiac massage to keep the circulation going. CPR may also involve rescue breathing, where the lungs are inflated using mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, often referred to as the “kiss of life”.
Cardiac arrest can sometimes be corrected by giving an electric shock through the chest wall using a defibrillator. Defibrillators are increasingly found in public places, including sports grounds, although they should only be used by people who are trained to use them.
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