Ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) is a dangerous type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. It affects your heart’s ventricles. Your heart is a muscle system that contains 4 chambers; the 2 bottom chambers are the ventricles. In a healthy heart, your blood pumps evenly in and out of these chambers. This keeps blood flowing throughout your body.
An arrhythmia that starts in your ventricle is called ventricular fibrillation. This occurs when the electrical signals that tell your heart muscle to pump cause your ventricles to quiver (fibrillate) instead. The quivering means that your blood is not pumping blood out to your body. In some people, V-fib may happen several times a day. This is called an “electrical storm.”
Because sustained V-fib can lead to cardiac arrest and death, it requires immediate medical attention.
The cause of ventricular fibrillation is not always known but it can occur during certain medical conditions. V-fib most commonly occurs during an acute heart attack or shortly thereafter. When heart muscle does not get enough blood flow, it can become electrically unstable and cause dangerous heart rhythms. A heart that has been damaged by a heart attack or other heart muscle damage is vulnerable to V-fib. Other causes include electrolyte abnormalities such as low potassium, certain medicines, and certain genetic diseases that affect the heart's ion channels or electrical conduction.
The most common risk factors are:
Symptoms of V-fib include:
To diagnose V-fib, your healthcare provider will consider:
There are 2 stages of treatment for V-fib. The first tries to stops your V-fib immediately to restore a blood pressure and pulse. The second stage focuses on reducing your chances of developing V-fib in the future. Treatment includes:
Complications include the possibility of repeat episodes of fainting or near fainting. V-fib can be fatal.
Prevention focuses on diagnosing and treating the underlying medical conditions that cause V-fib. Certain medicines can be used to reduce the risk of recurrence.Implantable cardiac defibrillators are devices that are implanted within the body that can shock the heart back to normal rhythm within seconds if V-fib is present. Although this device does not necessarily prevent V-fib, it can rapidly and automatically diagnose and treat this potentially fatal heart rhythm.
If you are at risk for V-fib, you should wear a medical ID and let friends and loved ones know what to do in an emergency. Talk with them about when to call 911, and encourage them to learn how to use a defibrillator.
If you have had V-fib, or are at high risk for it, follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for taking medicine to control arrhythmia. It's also helpful to discuss other more invasive options, such as an implantable defibrillator, or surgery, to prevent V-fib. Educate your friends and family about how to respond if you collapse and stop breathing.
It is extremely important to make sure that people around you know what to do in an emergency. Someone should call 911 immediately if you experience any of the following symptoms of V-fib:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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