What is Ventricular Fibrillation?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Ventricular fibrillation refers to an abnormal heart rhythm that changes the way the ventricles contract. It is usually sudden and always life threatening. It thus constitutes a medical emergency, requiring treatment right away, since the heart can easily stop and not restart. Most people aren’t likely to ignore the condition if it occurs in front of others, since it typically causes unconsciousness within a minute or two.

There are many potential causes of ventricular fibrillation. Structural anomalies in the heart may result in it, as can recent surgeries of any kind on the heart or cardiomyopathy. People who drown, experience a high voltage shock, or who go into anaphylactic shock could experience this condition too. Other causal factors include reduced blood levels of potassium, and sometimes the use of medications that may affect potassium. Most often though, a ventricular fibrillation episode occurs in conjunction with a heart attack and could be proceeded by heart attack symptoms like chest pain, or a feeling of rapid heart beat and shortness of breath.

The necessity of getting medical help right away cannot be underestimated. When ventricular fibrillation occurs, the person will become unconscious and within a few minutes, seizures can occur. Unconsciousness may change to coma as the brain continues to be deprived of oxygen, and death or extremely serious brain injury may occur.


In hospital settings where the heart is monitored, ventricular fibrillation receives quick treatment and survival outcome can be very good. Treatment may not happen when people are simply living their daily lives and an episode occurs. It is absolutely necessary that CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) begin immediately, with someone else contacting emergency services, if a person appears to have had an episode. Better yet, and with a greater survival rate is the use of a portable defibrillator, which may able to shock the heart back to a regular rhythm state.

Some schools and athletic programs now have portable defibrillators at hand and employees receive training on them. Without this training, it may not be wise to try to use one. When emergency workers arrive, they’ll almost certainly employ their defibrillator to provide this rhythm restart. In the interim, CPR is usually the best treatment.

When people survive an episode of this condition, there are a couple of treatment options. One is using medications to avoid ventricular fibrillation in the future. A method that may be preferred is implantation of a defibrillator, which can arrest ventricular rhythm abnormalities as they occur so that the heart beats normally. There is high risk of the condition occurring again, so treatment is deemed necessary in the majority of patients.



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