Explained: Jayalalithaa suffers cardiac arrest; What is it and how is it different from heart attack

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By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 5, 2016 5:04 pm


Supporters of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa hold her photograph as they pray for her health at a temple in Mumbai, India, Monday, Dec. 5, 2016. Thousands of Jayalalitha supporters and well wishers across India prayed for her speedy recovery after she suffered a cardiac arrest on Sunday evening. (Source: AP Photo/Rafiq Maqbool)

As the news of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa suffering a cardiac arrest on late Sunday evening trickled in, Tamil Nadu was on the edge. Her supporter’s were shocked to hear the news of her cardiac arrest. Jayalalithaa, who has been receiving treatment in Chennai’s Apollo Hospital since September 22, briefly recovered from her illness and, even, thanked the voters for backing her party, AIADMK, in the recently concluded bypolls. During her recovery, rumours did rounds about her ‘worsening’ condition and a few were also arrested by the state police for spreading them. Here, we attempt to shutdown the rumour mill by explaining what a cardiac arrest is, and how it is different from a heart attack.

The latest bulletin from Apollo Hospital revealed that amma was moved back to the Intensive Care and was put on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), a heart device that would aid her in recovery by increasing the cardiac and respiratory functions.

What is a cardiac arrest?

It is something that gets triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart. Cardiac arrest disrupts the heart’s pumping action and causes an irregular heartbeat, known as arrhythmia in medical terms. This leads to the blood not reaching the body’s critical organs — brain and lungs — that keep us alive.

What happens next?

In most cases, the person suffering a cardiac arrest becomes unresponsive and, usually, stops breathing. In certain cases the person is only gasping, indicating a difficulty in breathing. Without proper treatment — performing a CPR or using an Automated External Defibrillator — a person will die within minutes. In a 2012 paper published by the US-based National Center for Biotechnology Information, Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) contributed to 10.3 per cent of overall mortality in this population from Southern India.

How is it different from a heart attack?

Heart attack usually occurs when a person’s arteries are clogged, stopping the blood from reaching the heart. If the blockage is not immediately removed, the heart begins to die, according to the American Heart Association. However, unlike in cases of cardiac arrest, the heart usually doesn’t stop beating in a heart attack.

What happens next?

A person suffering a heart attack usually complains of deep pain in the chest, shortness of breath, feeling nauseous. In some cases, it may also lead to serve pain in the back or jaw. According to a paper published by the American Heart Association, at least 37 million Indian died of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) in 2010, an increase of 59 per cent since 1990. The average number of deaths in India due to CVD is 272 per 100 000 population, much higher that the global average.

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