Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is the most common initial heart rhythm in patients with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA), and the most salvageable one.5 In VF, the etiology of arrest is often attributed to either acute ischemia or non-ischemic arrhythmia.8
Although VF appears as a chaotic and disorganized rhythm, characteristics of the ventricular fibrillation waveform such as amplitude, frequency, and organization can be systematically quantified in real-time.4 These measures have correlated with arrest physiology and are strongly related to clinical outcomes.7 Current guidelines call for prompt and repetitive defibrillation in the setting of VF during cardiac resuscitation.2 Early defibrillation is key, but its success largely depends on several other factors, including witnessing of the arrest, early bystander cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and most importantly, the time from arrest to the first shock.3
Irrespective of the cause of cardiac arrest, the most important interventions are early recognition and calling for help—including appropriate management of the deteriorating patient—early defibrillation, high-quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with minimal interruption of chest compressions, and treatment of reversible causes.6
The easiest way to remember the most common causes of VF are to review the reversible “Hs and Ts” in cardiac arrest. The Hs include hypoxia, hypovolemia, hypothermia, hyper/hypokalemia, and hydrogen ions (acidosis). The Ts are tension pneumothorax, cardiac tamponade, toxins, and thrombosis (pulmonary or coronary).
Ventricular fibrillation falls under the ACLS Adult Cardiac Arrest Algorithm and is the most important algorithm to know for adult resuscitation.1 Treatment for VF starts with early and effective CPR with the application of oxygen and monitor/defibrillator placement. Keeping the brain, heart, and other vital organs perfused is very important in an arrest.
Once the rhythm is identified as ventricular fibrillation, a shock should be delivered immediately. There are 2 types of defibrillators in use: biphasic and monophasic. If a monophasic defibrillator is in use, 360 joules should be delivered to the patient. If the defibrillator is biphasic, the manufacturer recommended joules should be selected (usually 120 to 200 joules). If the amount is unknown, use the maximum available and subsequent doses should be equivalent, and possibly higher.1
After the shock is delivered, begin CPR again for 2 minutes. At the beginning of the arrest, providers should be thinking about the reversible causes of cardiac arrest so treatment can be implemented according to the algorithm.
After 2 minutes of CPR, the rhythm should be reassessed. Depending on the rhythm, providers will continue the Adult Cardiac Arrest Algorithm or begin using the appropriate one. Continued VF calls for another shock, followed by good CPR once again for 2 minutes.
If the patient remains in ventricular fibrillation, pharmacological treatment should begin. Epinephrine is the first drug given and may be repeated every 3 to 5 minutes. If epinephrine is not effective, the next medication in the algorithm is amiodarone 300 mg.
Defibrillation and medication are given in an alternating fashion between cycles of 2 minutes of high-quality CPR. Continue until the patient achieves return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) or the cardiac arrest team determines it is time to stop the resuscitation efforts.
Dan Bunker DNAP, MSNA, CRNA—Dan has worked in the healthcare industry for nearly 30 years. He worked as a registered nurse in the Coronary Care ICU for 7 years and was a flight nurse with Intermountain’s Life Flight for nearly 10 years. He has been a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) for 11 years working in the hospital settings as well as maintaining his own private practice. In addition, he is a professor in the nurse anesthesia program at Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has served in various leadership roles within the Utah Association of Nurse Anesthetists (UANA) and current president-elect.