Sudden Cardiac Arrest: What You Need to Know?

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Date: February 2, 2023
Categories: Health Focused, Heart

Dave Varma, MD
Medical Director, Cardiovascular Services

The recent collapse of a professional football player on the field due to sudden cardiac arrest has brought renewed interest in this topic. And during this, we realized how critical time is when helping an unconscious person who isn’t breathing.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest happens when there is a sudden stoppage of cardiac electrical activity with no blood coming out of the heart. Sudden cardiac arrest isn’t the same as a heart attack, which is when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest.

What happens during sudden cardiac arrest?
There is a complete lack of circulation throughout the body resulting in possible brain damage and if the cardiac arrest is prolonged, may result in death.

How common is sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest or sudden cardiac death accounts for 5 to 10% of all deaths in the United States. In 2019, about 400,000 people died suddenly due to cardiac causes.
What are the risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest?
Many factors can increase the risk, but it is most likely to occur in patients who have had previous coronary heart disease in the form of heart attacks or angina (a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.)

Nearly half of the women who experienced sudden cardiac arrest did not have clinically recognized coronary heart disease. About 15% of patients with coronary heart disease initially presented with cardiac arrest without any warning. This makes it a very difficult issue to deal with. 

Sudden cardiac death is more likely to occur in older male patients than in younger female patients. However, sudden death may also occur in patients with a weak heart muscle or thickened heart muscle. There are many other causes, including commotio cordis in which ventricular fibrillation can be caused by a sudden blow to the chest.

What are the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest often happens without warning, but sometimes there are symptoms including:

  • Sudden collapse
  • No pulse
  • No breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Fast-beating, fluttering, or pounding heart

If you see someone drop to the ground and you suspect sudden cardiac arrest, call 911. The faster emergency measures (CPR and defibrillation) are administered, the higher the chances of survival with good health outcomes.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the reason that there is a lot of emphasis on cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and advanced cardiac life support learning (ACLS) among all healthcare providers and among the general population. Automatic external defibrillators (AEDs) in schools and in airports have made a major difference in being able to quickly respond to victims of cardiac arrest. Automatic internal defibrillators are very helpful in people who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death such as in people with weak heart muscles and coronary heart disease. In addition, advances in medication treatment of patients with congestive heart failure and coronary disease have led to a reduction and sudden cardiac death among these populations.

It is important to have a prompt evaluation if you experience symptoms. Please speak with your Primary Care Provider or call our Cardiology Office if you have questions.

Augusta Health Cardiology

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