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What Is Ventricular Fibrillation: Symptoms And Causes

Ventricular fibrillation

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What is Ventricular Fibrillation: 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.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation is characterised by abnormal electrical activity that causes the heart’s lower chamber to fibrillate – or pump erratically – instead of contracting normally. The condition stops the heart from pumping blood throughout the body, with potentially dire consequences.

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 generally doesn’t 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 sudden cardiac arrest are the person becoming unresponsive and struggling to breathe.

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 ventricular fibrillation, 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 ventricular fibrillation 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.

For those not trained in using an AED, an emergency operator may give instructions over the phone. Although publicly available defibrillators are designed to provide spoken instructions. They’re also programmed to recognise abnormal heart activity and send a shock when (and only 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 prevent ventricular fibrillation, including an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).

Other ventricular fibrillation treatment aims to prevent future complications and reduce the risk of arrhythmia-related symptoms.

Getting urgent treatment when ventricular fibrillation occurs is vital. Death can occur very soon after 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 such a situation, bystanders can perform CPR until a defibrillator is available to deliver a shock to restore the normal heartbeat. If not treated promptly, ventricular fibrillation may very quickly lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death.

Learn effective CPR and defibrillation in a first aid course.

Visit First Aid Courses Darwin for more information.

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