Michael Jackson’s health has long been the subject of speculation. During his trial on charges of molestation in 2005, proceedings had to be postponed several times when he had to go to hospital. On one occasion he arrived straight from casualty in his pyjamas.
Jackson’s poor health at the time was said to be related to the stress of the court appearances and hostile publicity over his relationships with young boys. But the strain of his lifestyle has always been apparent in his gaunt appearance as well as the rumours of addiction to prescription drugs.
The singer died of a cardiac arrest. He had been under pressure to get fit for a gruelling run of 50 shows at London’s O2 Arena beginning next month.
We will know more about the causes of his death after a postmortem examination is carried out later today. There is speculation that his use of painkillers may have caused his death and there are unconfimed reports suggesting he may have collapsed after an injection of Demerol, a powerful painkiller similar to morphine that can in certain circumstances increase the risk of cardiac arrest.
A cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating. It occurs without warning, sometimes with no apparent reason, and is not the same as a heart attack.
It can be caused by a heart attack – usually precipitated by heart disease – but also by anything from drowning to an overdose of drugs or electrocution. All of these can disturb the heart rhythm, causing it to overwork and then stop.
Serious damage takes place quickly. “If you don’t start the heart within eight minutes, the chances of survival are rare,” said Ellen Mason, a cardiac nurse with the British Heart Foundation.
Reports say that Jackson had a physician with him at the time – so it is assumed he had prompt cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)‚ where somebody presses the patient’s chest and breathes in to their mouth. CPR is unlikely to cause the heart to start beating again, but its purpose is to maintain the flow of blood to the brain and heart, delaying tissue death. It doubles the chances of the patient surviving.
The heart can only be restarted using a defibrillator, which administers an electric shock. If paramedics reach the victim within eight minutes they can usually get the heart beating again. But in some cases of cardiac arrest, not even a defibrillator works.
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