Question of the Week

Can lightning re-start your heart?

Sun, 22nd Jun 2008

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Becky, Bishopís Stortford asked:

As lightning can strike in the same place twice if you get struck by lightning and it stops your heart and then you get struck by it again would it restart you heart?


Dr Jim Chandler, Consultant Cardiac Anaesthetist at Princess Elizabeth Hospital, Guernsey:

LightningFirstly the short answer is yes, it is possible that being struck twice by lightning would firstly stop your heart and then restart your heart.  The answer is a bit more complicated than that though.  The heart cells maintain a voltage drop across them which controls the inflow and outflow of ions.  These ions allow the heart to beat.  If the heartís struck by lightning that voltage drop is immediate and the heart will contract.  Unfortunately if the lightning strikes the heart at the wrong part of its relaxation the cells will not contract together, rather chaotically.  The heart will enter a rhythm called fibrillation.  This doesnít allow it to pump.  For that reason the pulse would stop and the heart would be said to be arrested. 

If a second strike of lightning or an electric shock occurred at the same point when a heart was fibrillating it would be possible that the heart cells would all contract together in a more ordered fashion.  However, there is a problem.  The heart could also be struck by lightning and instead of going into this fibrillating chaotic rhythm it could go into no rhythm at all.  It could quite simply not beat again.  Thatís called asystole.  It doesnít end there unfortunately, our poor unfortunate victim also suffers elsewhere.  Itís likely that the chest would become relatively stiff and the chest muscles would go into spasm.  These muscles take a lot longer to recover than heart muscles so it would be very unlikely that your victim would be able to breathe again.  For that reason, although the heart may well restart the victim may well die.


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I didn't think lightning could strike in the same place twice. I had a big arguement with the insurance company after the house got hit a few years ago. They argued the premium should go up, but in fact it should go down since we were not going to get hit again. turnipsock, Tue, 17th Jun 2008

I think it is quite rare that a lightning strike would only stop your heart though this may be one consequence. In the same way you would be extremely lucky if a second strike did only as much as restarting it. I guess it is theoretically possible but so unlikely as to be not worth considering as anything that would really happen.

We have discussed lightning striking twice issues before, turnipsock, I think. It is actually more likely (statistically) that lightning will strike the same place twice, not less likely. This is because things that get struck often (though not always) have some feature (like being on the top of a hill) that makes them more likely to present a easier conduction path to ground because the electric field is higher. graham.d, Wed, 18th Jun 2008

I assume that the second lightning strike is supposed to parallel a defibrillator in this hypothetical.  I once heard that a defibrillator was designed to momentarily stop the electric impulse that tells your heart to beat. So that when it starts again it is in a better rhythm and the heart is more likely to respond to it.  So I would say that if the first lightning strike could stop your heart, the second lightning strike could act like a poor mans defibrillator. kaukcz, Sun, 22nd Jun 2008

I suppose it all depends on timing, in how far apart strikes were. If the second bolt struck before your heart had time to stop the first time, supposedly that would only worsen the situation. Whereas if it struck a good minute after the first one, you would already be gone and the bolt would do nothing.

Of course that would be considering that your corpse hadn't been burnt to a crisp by the first bolt.

But hypothetically, it is possible with immaculate timing.

That's my guess. Professor Gaarder, Mon, 23rd Jun 2008

Yes Alan McDougall, Wed, 25th Jun 2008

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