Ventricular Fibrillation

The heart beat (contraction) begins when an electrical impulse from the sinoatrial node (SA node) moves through it. The SA node is sometimes referred to as the heart's "natural pacemaker" because it initiates impulses for the heartbeat. These impulses follow a very specific pattern every time; however, this exact route must be followed for the heart to pump properly. As long as the electrical impulse is transmitted normally, the heart pumps and beats at a regular pace. In an adult, a normal heart beats 60 to 100 times a minute.

When the SA node has issues though, you get a change in your heart's rhythm. This is known as an arrhythmia. Almost everyone has felt some type of arrhythmia throughout their life. Some examples include: a “fluttery” feeling in the chest or the feeling of the heart “skipping” a beat. Don’t panic if you’ve occasionally had these symptoms, as most are harmless. However, arrhythmias that last for longer periods of time, may present some problems. Examples include: atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter.

However, ventricular fibrillation (VFib) is considered the most serious cardiac rhythm disturbance. Anyone who experiences an acute onset of chest pain, fullness, discomfort or pressure; shortness of breath; fatigue; experiences nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness should call 911 immediately. The acute onset of these symptoms could indicate the early stages of ventricular fibrillation, sudden cardiac arrest or another cardiac-related condition. After calling 911, get an automated external defibrillator (AED), if one is available, and use it as soon as it arrives. Begin CPR immediately and continue until professional emergency medical services arrive. If two people are available to help, one should begin CPR immediately while the other calls 911 and finds an AED.

During VFib, control of electrical activity in the ventricles (heart’s lower chambers) becomes disorganized. This causes the ventricles to “quiver” or fibrillate. This prohibits the heart from pumping blood, causing collapse and cardiac arrest.

Causes of Ventricular Fibrillation

There are several potential causes for VFib. However, there are certain traits, conditions or habits may raise your risk for the condition. These are known as risk factors and include:

Non-modifiable risk factors: These factors are irreversible and cannot be changed. The more of these risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing VFib.

  • Although it can happen at any age, risk increases with older age.
  • Family history/Genetics
  • Previous heart attack

Modifiable risk factors: These factors can be modified, treated or controlled through medications or lifestyle changes.

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes (when your blood glucose, also called blood sugar, is too high).
  • Obesity or having a body mass index “BMI” of 30 or greater
  • Excessive amounts of alcohol consumption over many years
  • Extreme emotional stress
  • Excessive amounts of caffeine or other stimulants
  • Long history of cigarette smoking and/or drug abuse

Other conditions that may contribute to development of VFib

  • Heart surgery
  • Heart valve disease
  • Heart failure
  • Thyroid disease: a condition that is caused by the over or under function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is an essential organ for producing thyroid hormones, which maintains the body’s metabolism.
  • Obstructive sleep apnea: a condition in which your breathing abruptly stops and starts while sleeping.

Symptoms of Ventricular Fibrillation

Some people with ventricular fibrillation have no symptoms. Others are unaware of their condition until it's discovered during a physical examination. Those who do have ventricular fibrillation symptoms may experience the following:

  • Chest pain, fullness, discomfort or pressure
  • Confused or impaired thinking
  • F.A.S.T: face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty and time to call 911
  • General fatigue or fatigue when exercising
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia) of over 100 beats per minute
  • Heart palpitations
  • Lightheadedness/Fainting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweat

Diagnosis of Ventricular Fibrillation

To diagnose ventricular fibrillation, your doctor may review your signs and symptoms, your medical history and conduct a physical examination. After that, you may have:

Diagnostic tests and procedures

Treatment of Ventricular Fibrillation

Treatment depends on the severity of your VFib condition, any other underlying medical issues you might have, and the length of the VFib condition. Based on the findings, your doctor may recommend the following:

Lifestyle changes

Medications

  • Antiarrhythmic medications will help control your heart’s rhythm.
  • Anticoagulants “blood-thinners” will help treat, prevent, and reduce blood clots.
  • Beta blockers will help reduce your blood pressure.
  • Calcium channel blockers will help relax blood vessels and increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart while also reducing the heart's workload.

Medical and surgical procedures



Saint Barnabas Medical Center
94 Old Short Hills Road
Livingston, NJ 07039
(973) 322-5000
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Monmouth Medical Center
300 Second Avenue
Long Branch, NJ 07740
(732) 222-5200
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Monmouth Medical Center Southern Campus
600 River Avenue
Lakewood, NJ 08701
(732) 363-1900
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Clara Maass Medical Center
1 Clara Maass Drive
Belleville, NJ 07109
(973) 450-2000
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Community Medical Center
99 Highway 37 West
Toms River, NJ 08755
(732) 557-8000
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Newark Beth Israel Medical Center
201 Lyons Avenue at Osborne Terrace
Newark, NJ 07112
(973) 926-7000
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Jersey City Medical Center
355 Grand Street
Jersey City, NJ 07302
(201) 915-2000
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RWJ University Hospital Hamilton
1 Hamilton Health Place
Hamilton, NJ 08690
(609) 586-7900
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Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital
1 Robert Wood Johnson Place
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
(732) 828-3000
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RWJ University Hospital Rahway
865 Stone Street
Rahway, NJ 07065
(732) 381-4200
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RWJ University Hospital Somerset
110 Rehill Avenue
Somerville, NJ 08876
(908) 685-2200
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