Question: During a heart attack, how are dangerous heart rhythms (arrhythmia) prevented and/or treated?
Answer: A heart attack, which is due to the lack of blood flow to the heart muscle, can cause abnormal heart rhythms from as little as just an extra heartbeat to sudden death. Our treatment of that depends on the actual kind of heart rhythm.
First and foremost, we try to open the blocked artery that is causing the heart attack. That would be the first way to eliminate the abnormal heart rhythm if one can. On the other hand, if someone has had a cardiac arrest from the heart attack -- and that is termed ventricular fibrillation -- it means that the bottom chamber of the heart is going extremely rapidly -- four to six hundred times a minute -- and is not pumping blood flow to the brain. That needs to be reversed immediately because death can occur in three to five minutes, six minutes after having ventricular fibrillation. So that rhythm is treated by an AED, an automated external defibrillator; that's the shock with electrodes delivered to the chest wall that stops the ventricular fibrillation.
So there's a wide range of abnormal heartbeats that can occur associated with a heart attack, and depending upon the kind of abnormal heart rhythm that then would determine the kind of therapy used.