Medically reviewed by Dr. Payal Kohli.
Cardiac arrest can happen anywhere — even in the bathroom. That’s because certain daily activities, such as using the toilet or taking a bath, can play a part in triggering cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest that happens in the bathroom poses certain challenges. Since bathrooms tend to be private spaces, treatment can sometimes be delayed if you need help while you’re in there.
Let’s cover the basics of cardiac arrest, go into detail about why it may happen in bathrooms, and explain what to do if you’re in the bathroom and need medical assistance.
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is a heart condition where your heart stops beating. When this happens, your essential organs are no longer receiving oxygen-filled blood, putting your life in imminent danger.
Some people use the terms “cardiac arrest,” “heart attack,” and “heart failure” interchangeably. But each of these conditions is slightly different, although they can be related to each other.
Why might cardiac arrest happen in the bathroom?
Cardiac arrest is when the heart has an electrical malfunction. This causes an irregular heartbeat. This malfunction may be more likely to happen when you’re bathing, showering, or having a bowel movement because of the stress these activities can put on your body.
Using the toilet
When you’re having a bowel movement, you may find yourself straining or exerting yourself. This isn’t out of the ordinary, but it can put stress on your heart. If your heart function is already compromised, this could be a trigger for sudden cardiac arrest.
Going to the bathroom can also trigger something called a vasovagal response. Using the bathroom puts pressure on the vagus nerve, which can sometimes slow your heart rate.
Bathing and showering
Showering in water that’s either too cold (water temperature below 70°F) or too hot (water temperature above 112°F) can quickly impact your heart rate. As your body temperature rapidly adjusts in the shower, it may put stress on your arteries and capillaries.
There isn’t a lot of good data on how often sudden cardiac arrests happen in the shower. However, it makes sense that this setting would be more common for cardiac arrest than others due to the stress it can put on your vascular system.
Bathing in water that’s above your shoulders (and/or that’s significantly warmer than room temperature) may pose additional risksTrusted Source for people who have preexisting cardiovascular conditions, such as high blood pressure or heart disease.
Drugs and medication
An overdose of medication can lead to sudden cardiac arrest in some cases. If you keep your medicine in the bathroom medicine cabinet, this may increase the risk of experiencing cardiac arrest in the bathroom.
It’s also possible that an overdose of recreational drugs can bring on cardiac arrest. If these drugs are used in or before entering the bathroom, this can be a cause of cardiac arrest that happens when you’re in there.
What to do if you need help in the bathroom
If you need medical assistance in the bathroom for any reason, it’s important to get help even if you feel embarrassed. You should alert someone if you’re in the bathroom and you start to experience:
sudden shortness of breath
If you have an increased risk of cardiac arrest, let anyone you live with know so they can help in case of emergency. The following factors can all increase the risk of cardiac arrest:
high blood pressure
family history of heart disease
being age 65 and over
You may want to have a “safety system” with a family member or roommate who can check on you if you’re in the bathroom for a certain amount of time. If they knock on the door and you’re unresponsive, they should know that you need assistance.
You can also practice the following safe habits when you’re in the bathroom:
Don’t immerse yourself in hot water over your chest.
Set a timer or alarm when you’re in the bathtub.
Don’t take a hot bath after you’ve consumed a sleeping aid or relaxant medication.
Keep your phone with you on the counter within arm’s reach when you’re in the bathroom in case you need to call for emergency assistance.
Cardiac arrest can occur in the bathroom for a variety of reasons. That’s why it’s important to know your risk of cardiac arrest, and to communicate that risk to anyone else who lives with you or can check in on you, if possible.
Cardiac arrest is reversible if treated promptly. Call 911 or your local emergency number, or reach out to anyone nearby, right away if you experience chest pains or other symptoms.