Southern California -- this just in

« Previous Post | L.A. NOW Home | Next Post »

Michael Jackson's death: Cardiac arrest explained

June 25, 2009 |  6:41 pm


A cardiac arrest is a disruption of the electrical signals that trigger heartbeats, causing the heart to beat erratically so that it does not pump blood effectively.

The treatment is to use a defibrillator to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm, but that must be done very quickly — within about four minutes.

“Without a defibrillator, you are going to die,” said Dr. Douglas Zipes of Indiana University, a former president of the American College of Cardiology.

“The problem and the tragedy is that it has to be witnessed for the patient to survive,” said Dr. Leslie Saxon, chief of the division of cardiovascular medicine at USC.

Most are not.

“Survival rates outside of hospitals are less than 2%,” Saxon said.

In the absence of a defibrillator, CPR can keep blood flowing to the heart and brain until paramedics can arrive with the device.

But “you have to get to people very quickly if you are going to save them,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, head  of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. “If it happens at home instead of in a public place, most paramedics can’t get to you that fast.”

In young people, such as athletes, the most common causes of cardiac arrest are thickened heart muscles and other congenital problems. In older people, the causes are the same as for other coronary problems: hypertension, high cholesterol and smoking.

The most common cause of cardiac arrest is a blockage of an artery — a heart attack. Less common causes include drug abuse and overdoses of some prescription medications. Jackson’s plastic surgeries almost certainly had nothing to do with his death.

With any surgery, the patient can have a clot that could lead to a cardiac arrest, “but that is usually something that occurs within a reasonably short period of time after a surgical procedure,” said Dr. Roberta Gartside, a plastic surgeon in Reston, Va., who is a vice president of the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.

“There aren’t any surgical procedures that have a long-term potential complication that a patient might have a cardiac arrest,” she said.

It is equally unlikely that his vitiligo is involved. Vitiligo, in which patches of the skin lose pigment, has an autoimmune component that could potentially trigger cardiac arrest, “but usually autoimmune problems manifest in another way,” Saxon said.

-- Thomas H. Maugh II and Karen Kaplan

Orock Orock holds a sign outside the UCLA Medical Center, where entertainer Michael Jackson was taken, in Los Angeles, Thursday, June 25, 2009.  (AP Photo/Matt Sayles)


Use The Times interactive map to see significant sites in the life and death of Michael Jackson, including Neverland Ranch and his boyhood home in Gary, Indiana.