Sudden Cardiac Arrest

What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is when the heart abruptly stops beating, resulting in the prevention of blood flow to the body and loss of consciousness. This can result in death if not treated immediately by restoring the heart with electrical shock. As we discussed in our Arrhythmia page, the heart is controlled by the body’s electrical system. The heart can end up beating too fast or too slow. Each of these conditions can lead the heart to stop beating entirely and result in Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Sudden Cardiac Arrest should not be confused with a heart attack. A heart attack is when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. However, a heart attack can often lead to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.

What causes Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest is ultimately caused by a failure of the heart’s electrical system, resulting in abnormal heart rhythms, or Arrhythmia.

Several conditions can cause this, including:

  • Scarring from previous heart attacks
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Cardiomyopathy, or thickened heart muscles
  • Birth defects in the heart

Are you at risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

With Sudden Cardiac Arrest being closely linked to coronary artery disease, many of the risk factors are similar, including:

  • Coronary heart disease in the family
  • Previous heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest
  • Smoking, diabetes, obesity, and recreational drug use
  • Other heart conditions, such as arrhythmia
  • Fainting
  • Metabolic syndrome

How common is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

According to the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, “Approximately 350,000 people of all ages experience EMS-assessed out-of-hospital non-traumatic SCA each year and nine out of 10 victims die.”
Additionally, the American Heart Association recently reported the following:

  • 70% of SCAs occur at a home or residence
  • 20% occur in a public setting
  • 11% occur in nursing homes

Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest painful?

Some patients will experience chest pain, others report no pain at all. Loss of consciousness or fainting is often the first symptom, and patients collapse, not feeling any pain at first. As a result of this sequence of symptoms, Sudden Cardiac Arrest is often diagnosed after it occurs, meaning your first symptom is essentially cardiac arrest itself.

How to treat Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest must be treated immediately with an electrical shock to the heart with a defibrillator. Every minute following the beginning of sudden cardiac arrest is critical to survival. Therefore, defibrillation must occur as soon as possible, i.e. immediately.

How to prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest

The first step in preventing Sudden Cardiac Arrest is to check for symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and flu-like sensations (such as nausea, back pain and/or abdominal pain), and have these treated by a doctor. The key is to have these checked by a doctor. A recent study indicates that 50 percent of men and 53 percent of women show some warning signs before sudden cardiac arrest.

If you have any history (including family history) of sudden cardiac arrest, heart attacks, or coronary artery disease, you are at risk, and the best prevention is getting routine checks by your doctor and cardiologist.