Thumbnail image of: Heart, External View: Illustration
Thumbnail image of: Nodes Responsible for Cardiac Rhythm: Illustration

Ventricular Fibrillation

What is ventricular fibrillation?

Ventricular fibrillation (VF) is an abnormal heart rhythm that is irregular and very fast. If you have VF, the lower chambers of your heart do not squeeze effectively and little or no blood is pumped to your heart muscle and to the rest of your body. VF occurs suddenly when the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen. The most common cause of VF is a heart attack. Other causes may include narrowing of the arteries of the heart, some medicines, street drugs, or electrical shock. VF is a medical emergency.

What can I expect in the hospital?

Several things may be done while you are in the hospital to monitor, test, and treat your condition. They include:


  • You will be checked often by the hospital staff.
  • A heart (cardiac) monitor will be used to check your heartbeat.
  • Your blood oxygen level will be monitored by a sensor that is attached to your finger or earlobe.


Testing may include:

  • Blood tests to check for the amount of certain proteins in the blood to find out if your heart muscle has been damaged
  • Blood tests to check levels of potassium, calcium, and other minerals
  • An ECG (also called an EKG or electrocardiogram), which measures and records your heartbeat
  • A chest X-ray to check if your heart is bigger than normal and if there is extra fluid or other problems in your lungs
  • Ultrasound (echocardiogram), which uses sound waves and their echoes passed through your body from a small device (called a transducer) that is held against your skin to create pictures of the inside of your heart to look at your heart valves, blood flow, and how well your heart muscle is pumping
  • Stress test, which is an ECG while you exercise on a treadmill. If you are unable to exercise, you will be given a medicine that increases the work of your heart in order to measure your heart’s response. This test will help your provider decide what treatments and exercise are best for you or may be needed in the future.
  • Heart catheterization (coronary angiogram), which is a series of X-rays taken after your healthcare provider places a long, thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in your groin and up to your heart and injects a special dye into your blood vessels to look for areas where the dye may be leaking out of a blood vessel or to find out if blood vessels are blocked and how bad the blockage is


The treatment for VF depends on its cause. Emergency treatment includes:

  • You will have a small tube (IV catheter) inserted into a vein in your hand or arm. This will allow medicine to be given directly into your blood and to give you fluids, if needed.
  • You will receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). During CPR, a trained person will press on your chest regularly to help the heart contract to pump blood. You will also get oxygen to your lungs by a trained person pushing air into your lungs with a mask over your face or a tube through your mouth and into your lungs.
  • You will receive electrical shocks (defibrillation) on your chest to try to get your heart back to a rhythm that will allow it to pump blood again.
  • Your provider may prescribe medicines to:
    • Help the heart to beat normally
    • Slow the heart rate, reduce blood pressure, and reduce the workload of the heart
    • Relax and widen blood vessels and allow blood to flow through them easier
  • You may need surgery to treat ventricular fibrillation. Surgery may include:
    • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): Surgery used to place a device under your skin with small wires to your heart to detect abnormal heart rhythms and shock the heart back to a normal rhythm
    • Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI): A procedure in which your healthcare provider inserts a flexible tube called a balloon catheter into a blocked artery in your heart to unblock it. It opens up your artery without major surgery and allows blood to flow. A metal mesh device called a stent is usually left in the artery to help keep the blood vessel open.
    • Coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery: Surgery in which a blood vessel from another part of your body is used to create a new route for blood to flow around a blockage in a heart artery caused by coronary artery disease
    • Ablation surgery: A procedure in which your healthcare provider places a long, thin, flexible tube (catheter) into a blood vessel in your groin and up to your heart and uses electrical pulses to scar small areas of heart tissue. This causes the electrical activity of the heart to take a different path around the scars and to change the heartbeat to a normal rhythm.

What can I do to help?

You will need to tell your healthcare team if you have new or worsening:

  • Chest pain or pressure, squeezing, or fullness in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back (may feel like indigestion or heartburn)
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders, or in your back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • Trouble breathing
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat for no known reason
  • Along with the previous symptoms, feeling very tired, faint, or sick to your stomach
  • Feeling like your heart is beating too fast, too slow, or skipping beats
  • Chest pain that gets worse or happens more often
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Signs of infection around your surgical wound if you had surgery. These include:
    • The area around your wound is more red or painful
    • Your wound area is very warm to touch
    • You have blood, pus, or other fluid coming from the wound area
    • You have chills or muscle aches

Ask questions about any medicine or treatment or information that you do not understand.

How long will I be in the hospital?

How long you stay in the hospital depends on many factors. The average amount of time to stay in the hospital after VF is 3 to 5 days.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Acute Care Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2014-07-30
Last reviewed: 2014-07-31
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
Copyright ©1986-2015 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.

Patient Portal

myTuftsMed is our new online patient portal that provides you with access to your medical information in one place. MyTuftsMed can be accessed online or from your mobile device providing a convenient way to manage your health care needs from wherever you are.

With myTuftsMed, you can:

  1. View your health information including your medications, test results, scheduled appointments, medical bills even if you have multiple doctors in different locations.
  2. Make appointments at your convenience, complete pre-visit forms and medical questionnaires and find care or an emergency room.
  3. Connect with a doctor no matter where you are.
  4. Keep track of your children’s and family members’ medical care, view upcoming appointments, book visits and review test results.
  5. Check in on family members who need extra help, all from your private account.


Your privacy is important to us. Learn more about ourwebsite privacy policy. X