Ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) is one of the most severe cardiac rhythm disturbances and is considered a medical emergency.
If left without treatment, this condition can be life-threatening.
VF is characterised by abnormal electrical activity that causes the heart’s lower chamber to fibrillate instead of normal contraction. The condition prohibits the heart from pumping blood throughout the body, resulting in serious complications.
Once the blood flow stops due to ventricular fibrillation, a few seconds usually pass before the person passes out. It will eventually lead to a sudden cardiac arrest, resulting in immediate death without first aid care.
Sudden cardiac arrest is one of Australia’s top natural causes of natural death. It also accounts for more than half of all deaths from heart disease.
Symptoms and Causes
Ventricular fibrillation does not give much warning, but its main symptoms include fainting and loss of consciousness.
Other symptoms may include:
- Chest pain
- Pounding, fast, and irregular heartbeat
- Sudden dizziness
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Passing out (fainting)
Sudden cardiac arrest is the worst complication that can result from ventricular fibrillation. The two main signs of SCA are the person becoming unresponsive and having severe problems with breathing.
The victim may not respond to touch or speaking, and they may gasp for air or not breathe at all.
While experts have not yet confirmed the exact cause of VF, the problems usually stem from the interruptions in the heart’s electrical impulses. It is what controls and detects the person’s heartbeat.
Ventricular fibrillation often begins with a very rapid heartbeat that changes the electrical impulses in the heart. It mainly occurs in people who have existing scar tissue from previous heart attacks. It can also happen to those with existing muscle damage due to heart conditions.
VF requires emergency medical treatment to prevent lifelong complications and sudden cardiac death. The goal is to restore the person’s blood flow before the damage reaches vital body organs and causes brain damage.
Emergency treatment for ventricular fibrillation includes the following:
Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)
CPR performance mimics the heart’s pumping motion, which keeps the blood flowing throughout the body.
Call triple zero (000) or the local emergency number if the person starts losing consciousness.
Then proceed with CPR by pushing hard and fast on the person’s chest. Do it for about 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
Make sure to observe the chest area and let it rise completely in between compression. Continue CPR until an AED is available or emergency medical services arrive on the scene.
The use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) is essential in a VF emergency. The device will deliver shock through the chest wall to the heart, helping the heart restore its normal rhythm.
When the AED is available, use it and follow the voice or visual prompts.
If non-trained in using an AED, an emergency operator may give instructions over the phone. While publicly available defibrillators are programmed to recognise abnormal heart activity and send a shock when necessary.
There are drugs available to control heart rhythm for emergency use and even long-term treatment of ventricular fibrillation.
See a doctor and ask for prescribed medications to slow and control the heartbeat.
Surgery or other procedures
Surgery and other medical procedures may be necessary to treat VF, including an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).
Other VF treatment aims to prevent future complications and reduce the risk of arrhythmia-related symptoms.
Getting urgent treatment when VF occurs is vital. Death can occur within a few hours of when the condition starts. Other complications may lead to coma, loss of nerve function, and alteration in mental function.
How Is Ventricular Fibrillation Prevented?
Preventing the occurrence of ventricular fibrillation may involve doing some lifestyle changes. These include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Staying active by engaging in a few minutes of physical activity per day
- Quit smoking (Smoking can negatively affect the flexibility of arteries and the overall cell health)
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Controlled blood pressure and cholesterol levels
Ventricular fibrillation is a medical emergency where the brain and body can no longer receive blood from the heart. It can also render the person unconscious and experience difficulty breathing.
In this scenario, bystanders can perform CPR until a defibrillator is available to deliver a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. VF may result in sudden cardiac arrest and death within a few hours without treatment.
Learn effective CPR and defibrillation in a first aid course.