Can lightning re-start your heart?

22 June 2008

Question

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?

Answer

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

Firstly 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 heart's 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 doesn't 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. That's called asystole. It doesn't end there unfortunately, our poor unfortunate victim also suffers elsewhere. It's 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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