Ventricular fibrillation (V-fib) is a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat, that 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 instead. The quivering means that your blood is not pumping blood throughout your body. In some people, V-fib may happen several times a day. This is called an “electrical storm.”
Because V-fib can lead to cardiac arrest and death, it requires immediate medical attention.
A defibrillator is an electronic device used to treat V-fib. It produces an electric shock that can restore a normal heartbeat. Many public places, such as malls, movie theaters, and restaurants, now have defibrillators on-site. CPR training often includes instruction on their use. If you find and use a defibrillator promptly when someone collapses, you can save a life.
The cause of ventricular fibrillation is not always known. The most common cause, however, is a myocardial infarction (MI), or heart attack. Ventricular fibrillation can occur soon after an MI, due to its effect on the electrical system of the heart. It can also occur or much later after an MI due to scar tissue in the heart.
Anyone can develop V-fib, but the most common risk factors are:
Symptoms of V-fib include:
To diagnose V-fib, your health care provider will consider:
There are 2 stages of treatment for V-fib. The first stops your V-fib and saves your life. The second reduces your chances of developing V-fib in the future. Treatment includes:
Complications are problems that your condition can cause. With V-fib, complications include the possibility of a repeat episode and cardiac arrest. V-fib can be fatal.
You can help prevent V-fib by taking any medications that your health care provider has prescribed to manage your arrhythmia. Follow your health care provider’s instructions exactly. If you are at high risk for V-fib, your health care provider can implant a tiny defibrillator in your body. Talk with him or her about whether this is an appropriate option for you.
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 who are at high risk for it, follow their health care provider's recommendations for taking medication to control arrhythmia. It's also helpful to research and 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 health care provider:
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