What Is Cardiopulmonary Arrest?

Cardiopulmonary arrest can lead to death.
Cardiopulmonary arrest can lead to death. (Image: Blue Heart image by netzfrisch.de from Fotolia.com)

Cardiac refers to the heart. The word “pulmonary” refers to either lung function or the pulmonary artery that carries blood from the heart to the lungs. Arrest means to stop. Thus cardiopulmonary arrest indicates a stoppage of the heart-lung function. It is also labeled as a heart attack. Oftentimes the incidence of cardiopulmonary arrest is indicative of death. It is imperative that the patient get immediate medical assistance.


During cardiopulmonary arrest, blood ceases to flow through one or more of the chambers of the heart and the person may feel a tightening or sharp pain in the chest before losing consciousness. When cardiopulmonary arrest has actually occurred, there will be no breathing or pulse. There will be no heart sounds and the pupils of the eyes will be dilated.


There are many varied causes for heart attack. One of the more common is coronary artery disease, which is caused by build-up of plaque on artery walls over time. Other causes include the ingestion of drugs, such as cocaine or cigarette smoke, congenital heart conditions, extreme cold or an upsetting stressful situation.


The diagnosis of heart attack may be made through diagnostic tests, once the heart and lung function has resumed. The electrocardiogram graphs the heartbeats so that the doctor may assess any irregularity. Blood tests are performed to determine if proteins that are often released during a heart attack are present in the bloodstream. Coronary angiography may also be performed. During this procedure the doctor will insert a viewing system into the heart to assess the blockages or damage.


The very first action a patient should in the event of a heart attack is to call for immediate medical help. Various medications may help lessen the effects of the occurring heart attack, such as aspirin, nitroglycerin and pain medications. Many other procedures (such as angioplasty and coronary bypass grafting) and medications (such as beta blockers and anticoagulants) may be administered depending upon the severity and condition of the attack.


Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. People who smoke, are obese and/or have high blood pressure are the most susceptible to heart attack. Cardiopulmonary arrest can be prevented by quick action during onset of an attack, but may be prevented altogether in many cases by proper nutrition and exercise.

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