Coping with the aftermath of cardiac arrest

Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart which causes an irregular heartbeat also known as arrhythmia.

When the pumping action and rhythm is disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood back to the brain, lungs and other organs.

Within a few seconds, the person loses consciousness and there is an absence of a pulse. Death can occur within a few minutes unless the victim receives immediate treatment.

The good news is that this condition is reversible in most victims if it is treated within the first few minutes.

One of the main techniques of providing immediate care to someone undergoing cardiac arrest is through immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

CPR is critical to treating sudden cardiac arrest because it helps maintain a flow of oxygen-rich blood to the body’s vital organs. This will help the victim until more-advanced emergency care is available.

Usually, the victim will regain consciousness and will be provided with more advanced medical services. The immediate relief after gaining consciousness can be indescribable for the victim and family.

However, the period after the attack can be the most crucial time in the victim’s life as they are now in need of a long-term intervention plan to prevent recurring cardiac arrest.

Some call this post-care or management of post-cardiac arrest patients. Let’s look at it in a less medical framework and from a more relatable point of view by calling it “recovery after a hearty nightmare”.

There are three basic steps that can help one cope better after this experience.

Identify the cause of the cardiac arrest

Some helpful questions to ask your healthcare specialist:

• What caused the sudden malfunction of my heart?

• What could possibly be the main source of my irregular heartbeat?

• What changes (food, nutrition and fitness) can I make to avoid this from recurring?

Some helpful questions to reflect within:

• What were my thoughts and emotions just before the incident?

• Were there any possible stressors (emotional, mental, physical, social) that may have been the triggers of the increase in heart rate and the possible cause of sudden coronary events?

Out-of-hospital aftercare

Make sure you are given comprehensive post-cardiac arrest treatment care that includes:

• Acute coronary interventions.

• Neurological care.

• Goal-directed critical care.

• Cardiopulmonary function optimisation.

Prevent recurrent cardiac arrest through lifestyle changes

Food and nutrition

Most individuals feel they would now have to adhere to a strict “heart attack regime”.

What they should realise however, is that the eating plan is relevant to every individual regardless of whether a person has coronary issues or not.

A healthy eating plan which is beneficial for cardiac arrest recovery and for any individual can be summarised as following the healthy plate portion technique as recommended by the Ministry of Health, Malaysia.

Fitness

Before planning on any physical activity, be sure to check with your cardiac rehabilitation nurse, physiotherapist or doctor on how soon you will be able to resume physical activities.

Some basic physical activities that you can participate in include simple indoor home exercises, walking, simple stretching and yoga.

But be sure to listen to your heart and body. Avoid pushing yourself too hard. It would be good to remember that building cardiovascular health happens gradually and not drastically.

If you feel your heart rate rising too fast and feel too tired or dizzy, and if you are panting too hard, stop by slowing down your pace gradually and rest.

You should avoid stopping any physical activity in a sudden manner as this could make your heart rate come to a sudden halt.

In a few weeks, you will start to feel the results in your energy levels and stamina but it helps to be patient and not rush the process as this can be rather dangerous for your health.

Some additional tips on physical activity:

• Avoid physical activity for two hours after a bath or heavy meal.

• Avoid physical activity if you are tired at the end of the day. Wait until the next morning or choose a time of day when you feel most refreshed and energetic or relaxed.

Emotional wellbeing

After suffering a cardiac arrest, there usually is a myriad of emotions that linger around.

These may be fear of a recurrent attack, anxiety of being in a hospital, depressive symptoms where you ask “why me?”, worry about the future and about whether you will see your loved ones again, uncertainty about health and future, anger, panic and many others.

These emotions can sometimes engulf you in a cycle of fearful emotions and negative physiological effects.

This is because when a person feels unstable, this can affect his or her health and this can have adverse effects on his or her cardiovascular recovery.

Therefore, it would be good to talk to a psychologist, counsellor or even a friend or family member about these emotions so they can help you foster more positive emotions and thoughts.

There are a number of self-care techniques you can practice such as deep abdominal breathing, meditation and relaxation training.

It would also be helpful to learn to manage your stress to help you cope with daily life stressors.

It is never too late or too early to care for your heart. Regardless of whether you are recovering from cardiac arrest or if you are looking to prevent one, it is important for all of us to love ourselves enough to care for our heart, that tirelessly operates with every other organ in our body.

With determination, perseverance and consistency, you can surely gain back your cardiovascular health once again as nothing is impossible.

This article was written in collaboration with Naluri and first appeared in hellodoktor.com. The Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.