Cardiac Death

ExitCare ImageCardiac death is a loss of heart function. When this happens, the heart no longer pumps blood to the rest of the body and death occurs. It can be sudden and without warning or it can also result from a long term (chronic) heart condition.


The cause of cardiac death can be many. Heart disease may or may not be present. Some examples are:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD is fat buildup (plaque) in the heart arteries. Fat buildup in the heart arteries can deprive the heart of oxygen which can lead to a heart attack (cardiac arrest).

  • Heart failure. Heart failure is a long term condition of the heart. It causes progressive weakening of the heart and makes the heart less efficient at pumping blood.

  • Heart arrhythmias. Heart arrhythmias are abnormal heart beats that can affect how the heart pumps blood. Ventricular fibrillation is a common fatal heart arrhythmia.

  • Substance abuse. Illegal drugs, particularly cocaine, can cause life threatening heart rhythm abnormalities which can result in cardiac death.


Cardiac death can occur within minutes.


  • An autopsy may reveal the cause of cardiac death. An exam may reveal:

  • Coronary artery disease.

  • Heart attack.

  • Heart valve disease.

  • Heart failure.

  • Substance abuse can be determined by blood and urine tests.


  • Cardiac death may be reversed if immediate help is available:

  • If you witness someone collapsing and they have lost consciousness, call your local emergency service immediately (911 in the U.S.)!

  • Begin immediate CPR.

  • If an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) machine is available, use it. The electric shock delivered by the AED machine can help restore the heart to a normal heartbeat. To be effective, a shock should be delivered within 3-5 minutes of a witnessed collapse.