Cardiac Arrest

by Abdel Noureldin and Falak Sayed

Quick link to Spanish Version


A 23-year-old female was brought into the emergency department. Her frantic family members said they found her on the bathroom floor, not breathing, unresponsive, and with no pulse. EMS brought the patient to the ED.

Cardiac arrest is a condition that every emergency physician must be an  expert in managing.  The EM doctor will face it and have a love/hate relationship with it.  You love it when the patient is resuscitated and breathing on his own; you can then tell the family their loved one is alive.  You feel great because, after all, we are here to save lives, and it’s the reason we joined this specialty.  You hate it when your eyes are tearing up as you inform the parents of the newborn that he or she did not make it.

This illness is due to the lack of effective perfusion of the organs of the body 2nd to the abrupt failure of the heart to pump blood.  Every year, over a quarter of a million lives are lost because of cardiopulmonary arrest, and most of these cases occur outside of the hospital.   However, the mortality rate can be improved with the early and effective initiation of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and advanced cardiopulmonary life support (ACLS).

Cardiac Arrest Rhythms

The pulseless cardiac arrest is caused by 4 different types of primary arrhythmias that consist of 2 shockable rhythms (ventricular tachycardia and ventricular fibrillation), and 2 non-shockable rhythms (pulseless electrical activity and asystole).

Shockable rhythm

Ventricular Tachycardia

Ventricular tachycardia (VT) has 2 different types. The most common is the monomorphic (VT) and is defined as 3 or more consecutive ectopic ventricular beats (QRS complexes) of the same type.

The 2nd type is the polymorphic (Torsade’s De pointes) that consists of ectopic ventricular beats (QRS complexes) of different types of morphology.

Ventricular Fibrillation

Ventricular fibrillation is rapid and unorganized electrical impulses which makes the ventricles of the heart quiver while no pumping of the blood occurs.

Non-shockable rhythms

Pulseless Electrical Activity

Pulseless electrical activity (PEA) shows organized electrical rhythm on the electrocardiogram with no mechanical contractions of the heart muscle (no pulse). It is also called electromechanical dissociation.


Asystole is defined as no electrical activity in the heart and no mechanical contraction of the heart muscle (no pulse). It is also called flat line or cardiac standstill.

Medications for Cardiac Arrest

Thara are only 3 emergency drugs you should now in any cardiac arrest patient. These are Epinephrine, Amiodarone, and Magnesium.


Concentration 1:10,000
Pediatric dosage 0.1 mL/Kg (20 kg child = 2 mL)
Adult dosage 10 mL or basically 1 mg
Frequency Every 2 cycles (3 to 5 minutes)
Indication All pulseless cardiac arrest rhythms
Mechanism : An agonist for the beta and alpha receptor which increases the perfusion pressure in the coronary and cerebral vessels


Pediatric dosage 5 mg/Kg (can be repeated up to 300 mg)
Adult dosage 300 mg (can be repeated at 150 mg)
Indication shockable rhythm (VT and VF)
Frequency 1st dose after the 3rd shock and repeat dose after the fourth defibrillation
Mechanism: Class III antiarrhythmic drugs.


Pediatric dosage 25 to 50 mg/Kg (maximum 2 grams)
Adult dosage 1 to 2 grams
Indication Torsade de Pointes
Frequency Once when the diagnosis is made
Mechanism: Shorten the prolonged QT interval

Imperative Concepts for The Team During Cardiac Arrest Management

The compressors

  • Must push hard (2 to 2.4 inches or 5 to 6 cm)
  • Should push fast (100 -120/minute)
  • Ought to allow the chest to recoil completely
  • Rotate with another person every 2 minutes


  • Do not hyperventilate
  • 2 ventilations to 30 compressions while using ambo bag
  • Give one breath every 6 seconds when the patient is intubated
  • Use wave capnography to monitor CPR (CO2 should be >10)
  • If the advance airway is needed, use supraglottic devices or endotracheal intubation
  • Confirm endotracheal intubation by wave capnography

Shock delivery

  • Biphasic – 200 Joules
  • Monophasic – 360 Joules
  • Make sure everyone is clear before you shock the patient
  • Attach the patient to the monitor

Drug therapy

  • Start IV or IO
  • Epinephrine: (1:10,000) 0.1ml/KG for pediatric and 10 ml for adult
  • Amiodarone: 5mg/kg for pediatric and 300 mg for adult
  • Amiodarone 2nd dose: up to 15 mg/kg (max-300) and 150mg adult
  • Magnesium: 25 to 50 mg/KG- pediatric and 1 to 2 grams – adult


  • Must record all the drugs given and the time it was given
  • Inform the team members at the end of each cycle
  • Keep track of the total time of resuscitation

Team leader

  • Must have mutual respect for all members of the team
    • The sudden increase in the PETCO2 (>40)
    • Return of pulse and pressure
  • Make sure the interruption of chest compression is <10 seconds
  • Remember the reversible causes (Hs and Ts)
    • Hypovolemia
    • Hypoxia
    • Hydrogen Ion (acidosis)
    • Hypo-hyperkalemia
    • Hypothermia
    • Tension pneumothorax
    • Tamponade
    • Toxins
    • Thrombosis (coronary and pulmonary)
    • Trauma

Cardiac Arrest Management Made Easy

If the patient developed a pulse at any time during resuscitation

  • Stop CPR
  • Intubate the patient and secure the airway
  • Start post resuscitation care
  • Induced hypothermia
  • Admit to ICU

If the patient remained pulseless

  • Stop CPR after 20 minutes of resuscitation of the non-shockable rhythm or after 20 minutes from the last shock that was delivered.

Case Presentation

A 23 year old female was brought into the emergency department. Her frantic family members said they found her on the bathroom floor, not breathing, unresponsive, and with no pulse. EMS brought the patient to the ED.

Q1: What is your first step in managing this case?

Q1 Answer


  • Check for responsiveness – no response – ACTIVATE THE SYSTEM/CODE
  • Does the patient have a pulse? – no pulse
  • Is the airway patent? – airway patent but must use jaw thrust (found on floor)
  • check for breathing – patient is apneic
  • Start Chest compression, oxygen by BVM and connect to a monitor


Your monitor showed this

Q2: What is your next step?

Q2 Answer


  • The rhythm above is ASYSTOLE (non- shockable rhythm)
  • Give Epinephrine (1-10.000) with a dose of 10 ml
  • Stop CPR after 2 minutes (5 cycles of 2 ventilation and 30 compressions)
  • Check rhythm and pulse (less than 10 seconds)


The patient has no pulse, and the monitor showed this

Q3: What is your next step?

Q3 Answer
  • This is PEA (Pulseless electrical activities)
  • Continue CPR for 2 minutes
  • Prepare epinephrine for next cycle
  • Think of reversible causes (Hs & Ts)
  • Use ultrasound (if available)


The patient has no pulse, and the monitor showed this

Q4: What is your next step?

Q4 Answer
  • Defibrillation is needed
  • Prepare the shock (200 for Biphasic machines, 360 for monophasic macgines), and contnue chest compressions during charging
  • Shock the patient, then
  • Continue CPR for 2 minutes


Quick link to Spanish Version

References and Further Reading

  • Jameson, J. N. St C.; Dennis L. Kasper; Harrison, Tinsley Randolph; Braunwald, Eugene; Fauci, Anthony S.; Hauser, Stephen L; Longo, Dan L. Harrison’s principles of internal medicine. McGraw-Hill Medical Publishing Division. 2005
  • Mahadevan, S.; Garmel, Gus. An Introduction to Clinical Emergency Medicine: Guide for Practitioners in the Emergency Department. Cambridge UP. 2005.
  • Selecting and Inserting Airway Adjuncts – Link
  • ACLS Airway Management – Link
  • Airway Management with Simple Adjuncts – Link
  • ACLS ECG Rhythm Review – Link
  • Core ACLS ECG Rhythm playlist – Link
  • American Heart Association ACLS Megacode – Link
  • ACLS Megacode Practice Scenario – 1 – Link
  • ACLS Megacode Practice Scenario – 2 – Link
  • Official Webcast of the 2015 Guidelines Update for CPR, ECC and First Aid – Link
  • Cardiac Arrest and ACLS in 2015 – Amal Mattu – Resuscitation 2015 – Link

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