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12-lead ECG of ventricular fibrillation
Ventricular fibrillation (often shortened to VF or V-Fib) is a type of arrhythmia of the heart. An arrhythmia happens when the heart doesn't beat in a proper rhythm. With this arrhythmia the heart muscle does not beat in any kind of pattern, but instead quivers and twitches randomly. The ventricular part of the name means that is affects the ventricles (the biggest part of the heart). This is different than atrial fibrillation, where only the atrium is affected. Atrial fibrillation is not as serious.
During ventricular fibrillation, the heart is unable to pump blood around the body properly, and there will be loss of oxygen to the body, called hypoxia. Ventricular fibrillation is a medical emergency. If it is allowed to continue for more than a few seconds, the blood will stop circulating, which causes the loss of a pulse and respiration. The person is in cardiac arrest and will die unless treated.
Ventricular fibrillation can be stopped by a careful discharge of electrical current from a defibrillator. If no defibrillator is available, CPR (cardio pulmonary resuscitation) should be used to keep the blood flowing until a defibrillator is available. Sometimes CPR is enough to restart the heart. Anti-arrhythmic drugs such as amiodarone or lidocaine can help. Success of treatment starts at 90%, but drops 10% every minute, so the sooner treatment is applied, the more likely it will be successful. CPR will help keep the person alive until treatment arrives.
In patients at high risk of ventricular fibrillation the use of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator has been shown to help.