• July 12, 2024

Common Medications used in Cardiac Arrest

cardiac arrest medications

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency that demands immediate intervention to restore normal heart rhythm and circulation. The use of cardiac medications plays a critical role in managing cardiac arrest and increasing the chances of survival. This article explores the common cardiac medications used during cardiac arrest and provides nursing implications to ensure safe and effective administration.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating or beats irregularly, leading to the cessation of blood flow throughout the body. This can result from various factors, including arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms), heart attack, drug overdose, or underlying cardiac conditions. Cardiac arrest is a dire medical emergency, and swift action is required to improve the chances of patient survival.

Common Cardiac Medications Used During Cardiac Arrest

  1. Epinephrine (Adrenaline)

    • Mechanism of Action: Epinephrine is a potent sympathomimetic agent that stimulates both alpha and beta adrenergic receptors. It increases heart rate, enhances myocardial contractility, and causes peripheral vasoconstriction, ultimately improving blood circulation.
    • Nursing Implications: Nurses should be aware of the dosing and administration guidelines, as well as the potential adverse effects of epinephrine, including increased blood pressure, heart palpitations, and anxiety. Precise dosing is crucial for preventing side effects and achieving optimal outcomes.
    • Intravenous (IV) or intraosseous (IO): 1 mg every 3-5 minutes during cardiac arrest.
    • Intratracheal (less preferred route): 2-2.5 mg diluted in 10 mL of sterile water every 3-5 minutes.
  2. Amiodarone

    • Mechanism of Action: Amiodarone is an antiarrhythmic medication that primarily affects potassium and sodium channels in cardiac cells. It helps stabilize the heart’s electrical activity, making it useful in treating life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.
    • Nursing Implications: Nurses should closely monitor patients receiving amiodarone for potential complications, such as hypotension, bradycardia, and pulmonary toxicity. Regular electrocardiogram (ECG) monitoring is necessary to assess its effectiveness.
    • IV or IO: The initial dose is typically 300 mg, followed by a second dose of 150 mg if necessary after 3-5 minutes. Subsequent doses may be considered if ventricular arrhythmias persist.
  3. Lidocaine

    • Mechanism of Action: Lidocaine is another antiarrhythmic medication that acts by inhibiting sodium channels in cardiac cells, reducing abnormal electrical impulses. It is used in managing ventricular arrhythmias.
    • Nursing Implications: Nurses should be cautious when administering lidocaine, as it can cause central nervous system side effects, such as confusion and seizures. Regular ECG monitoring is essential to assess the drug’s efficacy and the patient’s response.
    • IV or IO: The initial dose is typically 1-1.5 mg/kg. Additional doses of 0.5-0.75 mg/kg can be given every 5-10 minutes, up to a maximum dose of 3 mg/kg.
  4. Sodium Bicarbonate

    • Mechanism of Action: Sodium bicarbonate is an alkalizing agent used to correct acidosis in the body during cardiac arrest. Acidosis can occur due to inadequate oxygen delivery to tissues.
    • Nursing Implications: Proper administration of sodium bicarbonate is crucial for preventing metabolic alkalosis. Nurses should monitor arterial blood gases and electrolyte levels to ensure the patient’s acid-base balance is maintained within a safe range.
    • IV or IO: The initial dose is usually 1 mEq/kg (1 mL/kg of 8.4% solution) in cardiac arrest. Repeat doses may be administered based on arterial blood gas (ABG) analysis.
  5. Atropine

    • Mechanism of Action: Atropine is an anticholinergic medication that blocks the action of the vagus nerve, increasing heart rate and conduction through the atrioventricular (AV) node. It is used to treat bradycardia.
    • Nursing Implications: Nurses should be aware of the indications for atropine and the potential side effects, including dry mouth, blurred vision, and urinary retention. Accurate dosage and monitoring of the patient’s response are vital.
    • IV or IO: For bradycardia, 0.5 mg may be given every 3-5 minutes, with a maximum dose of 3 mg. Pediatric dosing is weight-based.
  6. Vasopressin

    • Mechanism of Action: Vasopressin, also known as antidiuretic hormone, constricts blood vessels and increases systemic vascular resistance, which can help raise blood pressure during cardiac arrest.
    • Nursing Implications: Vasopressin is often used as an alternative to epinephrine in cardiac arrest. Nurses should closely monitor the patient’s blood pressure and assess for signs of tissue perfusion to determine the drug’s effectiveness.
    • IV or IO: An initial dose of 40 units may be administered during cardiac arrest as an alternative to epinephrine.
  7. Magnesium Sulfate

    • Mechanism of Action: Magnesium sulfate is used to manage specific arrhythmias, such as torsades de pointes and refractory ventricular fibrillation, by stabilizing cardiac cell membranes.
    • Nursing Implications: Nurses must be cautious when administering magnesium sulfate, as an overdose can lead to severe cardiac and respiratory depression. Regular monitoring of serum magnesium levels and ECG is necessary to ensure safety.
    • IV or IO: For the treatment of specific arrhythmias like torsades de pointes, a common initial dose is 1-2 g diluted in 10 mL of D5W over 5-60 minutes.

Nursing Implications for Administering Cardiac Medications

  1. Prompt Assessment: Nurses should quickly assess the patient’s vital signs, cardiac rhythm, and underlying condition to determine the appropriate medication and dosage.
  2. Accurate Medication Calculation: Precise medication calculations and dilutions are essential to prevent underdosing or overdosing.
  3. Drug Compatibility: Nurses should ensure the compatibility of medications when administering multiple drugs simultaneously through intravenous access.
  4. Monitoring: Continuous monitoring of the patient’s cardiac rhythm, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation is vital to assess the medication’s effectiveness and detect adverse reactions promptly.
  5. Documentation: Thorough documentation of medication administration, dosages, patient response, and any adverse events is crucial for providing a complete patient record and improving communication among healthcare providers.
  6. Airway and Breathing Support: In cardiac arrest situations, nurses should maintain the patient’s airway and provide ventilatory support when necessary to ensure adequate oxygenation.
  7. IV Access: Establishing intravenous (IV) access is essential for administering cardiac medications, and nurses should ensure proper catheter placement and patency.
  8. Team Communication: Effective communication within the healthcare team, including clear handover of patient information and medication administration plans, is vital for seamless care delivery during cardiac arrest.


The administration of cardiac medications during cardiac arrest is a critical aspect of resuscitative efforts. Nurses play a pivotal role in ensuring the safe and effective use of these medications. Understanding the mechanisms of action, nursing implications, and potential adverse effects of common cardiac medications is essential for providing quality care to patients experiencing a cardiac arrest. Through accurate assessment, calculation, and monitoring, nurses can significantly contribute to improving patient outcomes and increasing the chances of survival in this life-threatening emergency.


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