Ventricular fibrillation or ventricular flutter of the heart, also known colloquially as heart fibrillation or heart flutter, is a highly threatening process for human life. It always means acute danger to life and if ventricular fibrillation is suspected, the patient must immediately be in the hands of a doctor, who then initiates acute emergency measures.
What is ventricular fibrillation?
Defibrillation is a treatment method for cardiac arrhythmias such as ventricular fibrillation or heart palpitations, atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter, in which strong electrical shocks are used to restore healthy heart activity. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Ventricular Fibrillation.
If there is ventricular fibrillation of the human heart, the affected person can no longer feel a pulse. Uncontrolled contractions and twitching of the heart occur because the heartbeat is no longer regulated due to pathological cardiac arrhythmias.
The heart muscle only pumps irregularly and if left untreated, it may not pump at all. Ventricular fibrillation is a common complication of a heart attack. If the patient is not adequately treated promptly, he can die of ventricular fibrillation.
The causes of ventricular fibrillation are diverse. Cardiovascular diseases are very often caused by years of smoking, but also by other organic diseases such as liver and kidney damage. An unhealthy diet and lack of exercise also promote heart disease.
However, the main cause of ventricular fibrillation is a disease of the heart itself, known as coronary heart disease. It is one of the most common causes of ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac death.
Potassium deficiency in kidney failure or an incorrect, high-fat diet can also lead to ventricular fibrillation. Acute states of shock and electric shocks can also cause acute ventricular fibrillation.
In rare cases, excessive stress (usually associated with a heart attack) can also indirectly lead to ventricular fibrillation.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Incipient ventricular fibrillation (ventricular flutter) is often noticeable a few minutes beforehand through various diffuse symptoms. At first, those affected often feel slight dizzy spells and lightheadedness, which can be accompanied by severe nausea. Cold sweats, inner restlessness and a feeling of tightness in the chest are also often associated.
In the further course it comes to tachycardia. The heart rate increases here to up to 250 beats per minute – about 60 to 80 beats per minute are normal. The affected person suffers from increasing shortness of breath, which can increase to acute shortness of breath. Overloading the heart often causes left-sided chest pain, which can radiate to the left arm and shoulder.
Ventricular fibrillation usually leads to a cardiovascular collapse, and the affected person loses consciousness within a few seconds. Typically, the unconscious person’s skin turns pale, and the lips turn blue. As a rule, the pupils are dilated and rigid, and neither blood pressure nor pulse can be determined.
Breathing stops too. During fainting, many patients experience uncontrolled bowel or bladder emptying. In many cases, ventricular fibrillation does not announce itself through such warning signals, but occurs spontaneously and without prior warning. Some of those affected only feel a severely reduced physical resilience a few days beforehand.
Diagnosis & History
The patient suffering from acute ventricular fibrillation falls into a deep unconsciousness after only a few seconds. Severe spasms occur and the pupils are noticeably dilated. The brain is now no longer supplied with oxygen.
Left untreated or treated too late, ventricular fibrillation of the heart can lead to irreparable brain damage after just a few minutes and death inevitably follows shortly thereafter. At the slightest suspicion of ventricular fibrillation or a heart attack, the emergency doctor initiates immediate measures.
In addition, an ECG must be performed as quickly as possible in order to monitor the patient’s cardiac activity. In addition, the patient’s blood is tested as soon as he arrives at the hospital. Many cities and counties have special ambulances that are equipped for acute heart patients and where all emergency measures can be taken. But even semi-automatic defibrillators, which are now found in many public facilities, can save time and save lives.
Ventricular fibrillation is a life-threatening condition for the patient. If this condition is not treated, it can lead to the death of the patient in the worst case. As a rule, acute treatment must be given by an emergency doctor or directly in the hospital.
The further complications and complaints usually depend on the cause and the treatment. Those affected can also lose consciousness due to ventricular fibrillation and possibly injure themselves in the event of a fall. Likewise, the entire circulatory system of the body can fail. If the person concerned loses consciousness, the internal organs and the brain can no longer be supplied with oxygen.
This leads to irreversible damage, so that the person concerned may suffer from paralysis or sensory disturbances even after the treatment. This complaint is treated with the help of a defibrillator and usually does not lead to complications. However, not every patient can be saved. A pacemaker may be necessary for the affected person to continue to survive. In most cases, the patient’s life expectancy is significantly reduced by ventricular fibrillation.
When should you go to the doctor?
Heart rhythm disturbances are serious health symptoms that always need to be checked out by a doctor. Permanent as well as temporary irregularities point to problems with heart activity, which must be clarified in a check-up. A doctor should be consulted if there is pain in the chest, a stabbing or pulling sensation in the chest, tachycardia or a change in blood pressure. If the person concerned suffers from nausea, dizziness or unsteady gait, there is cause for concern.
If there is an abnormality in breathing, the initiation of medical examinations is strongly recommended. If you are short of breath, your body is not being supplied with enough oxygen for a long time. This undersupply can trigger a life-threatening condition and lead to premature death. In the event of drowsiness or loss of consciousness, an emergency service must be alerted. First-aid measures are to be initiated by those present to ensure the survival of the person concerned.
If an uncontrollable tremor sets in or inner restlessness develops, the first signs of a health problem appear. Since ventricular fibrillation is associated with a high level of danger to life, a reaction should be taken as quickly as possible if the symptoms increase. An emergency doctor is needed if the pulse rate increases continuously, if there is internal heat development, if you break out in a sweat or if your cardiovascular system suddenly stops.
Treatment & Therapy
First, the emergency doctor or available medical personnel will initiate immediate resuscitation measures. This resuscitation is intended to revive the cardiopulmonary system. The acute ventricular fibrillation is then treated with a so-called defibrillator. This device is used to restart the heart’s normal rhythm and beat.
The doctor then injects the patient with additional antiarrhythmics. These drugs stabilize the cardiovascular system and bring about a normalization of the electrical excitation conduction of the human heart. The patient who has suffered ventricular fibrillation is taken to the hospital intensive care unit. He is seamlessly monitored with modern apparatus medicine until his condition has noticeably stabilized and he can be treated further in a normal ward.
Anyone who has had an attack of ventricular fibrillation or a heart attack is at risk of experiencing the same thing again in the future and not surviving a second time. Therefore, the doctor will take precautionary measures in the hospital to avoid ventricular fibrillation again. The possible implantation of a cardiac pacemaker and long-term drug or surgical treatment of the original causes are usually unavoidable.
Outlook & Forecast
If the person affected with ventricular fibrillation is not immediately treated in intensive care, the prognosis is unfavorable. There is a risk of the patient dying prematurely, since the heart flutter represents an emergency situation for the person concerned and means an acute danger to life for him. If first-aid measures are initiated by the people present as soon as the ventricular fibrillation begins and if medical care takes place within a few minutes, the chances of recovery improve.
A fundamentally healthy person is at risk of long-term impairments. Saving life is successful in most cases. In most cases, the current lifestyle must be changed and physical and emotional stress must be avoided. They can lead to a recurrence of existing symptoms at any time and cause renewed danger to life.
If there are other underlying diseases, such as obesity, heart disease or kidney failure, this has an unfavorable influence on the further course of the disease. In addition to permanent damage to the organs and impairment of the functional abilities of the organism, there is a risk of physical and psychological complications. The quality of life decreases significantly and a restructuring of the entire everyday life is necessary because the usual duties can no longer be fulfilled independently. Irreversible damage occurs, which can lead to complications and endanger life at any time. Paralysis or multiple surgical interventions are likely.
If you want to prevent diseases of the cardiovascular system, you should definitely take advantage of the preventive medical check-ups. People over the age of 35 can have regular examinations. Anyone who notices an irregular heartbeat or even pain in the heart area should also be examined by their family doctor or a cardiologist immediately. A 24-hour ECG can bring clarity to unclear symptoms if the normal ECG shows no abnormalities.
Smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol damage all organs, including the heart. Anyone who moves a lot, eats healthily and avoids stimulants can prevent coronary heart disease and potassium deficiency. If such a disease is already present, treatment appointments must be meticulously adhered to and prescribed medication must be taken.
Surviving ventricular fibrillation or flutter is an illness that must be accompanied by medical follow-up care. Among other things, this applies to the defibrillator, which in many cases has been implanted in the patient’s chest for safety. The function and fit must be right in order to guarantee the optimum level of protection for those affected.
Furthermore, the follow-up care also depends on a possible underlying disease that triggered the ventricular fibrillation or flutter. If a structural heart disease has been diagnosed, the course of the disease must be checked at regular intervals defined by the doctor. These include ultrasound and ECG, but also stress ECG, imaging procedures such as MRI or invasive examinations using cardiac catheters.
If physical fitness can be improved as part of the aftercare, this will also be discussed with the doctor treating you, for example the family doctor, an internist or the cardiologist. There are rehabilitation sports groups here that are specially tailored to the needs of cardiological patients. Walks in the fresh air are also helpful.
The diet is best designed to be cholesterol conscious, without a lot of fat. It is better to avoid alcohol, nicotine and too much caffeine. Relaxation techniques or yoga as part of the aftercare can be very helpful for psychologically coping with a ventricular fibrillation that has been overcome.
You can do that yourself
Ventricular fibrillation (ventricular flutter) is a potentially life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia that requires immediate emergency medical treatment. Due to the often rapid onset of unconsciousness, self-help by the affected patient is usually not possible.
After recovering from ventricular fibrillation, however, there are some behaviors that are important for the patient in everyday life. Depending on what was determined to be the cause of the ventricular fibrillation or flutter, the patient can actively contribute to his or her heart health in consultation with the attending family doctor, internist or cardiologist. This applies in particular to a healthy diet and a dosed amount of physical activity, which is possible both on your own and in heart sports groups thanks to the mostly implanted defibrillator. Strengthening the immune system to ward off infections and reducing excess weight are also useful. It’s also up to the patient, the stress in his private or professional environment to a minimum.
It is also important to strengthen the mental state of patients after a threatening ventricular fibrillation (ventricular flutter). Moderate exercise helps here too. In addition, psychological stabilization is possible through working through discussions, walking the dog or learning a relaxation method such as progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobsen. Even gentle yoga styles stabilize the inner balance of the often significantly.