Medically reviewed by
Cyrus Kocherla, MD
McLeod Cardiology Associates
The heart stops suddenly and unexpectedly. Blood pressure drops. Blood flow screeches to a halt in the brain and organs. Breathing ceases. The person loses consciousness. Without quick intervention, this “arrest” can quickly lead to “death.”
“Arrhythmias, irregular heartbeats, are the trigger for 88% of these cardiac episodes,” says McLeod Electrophysiologist Dr. Cyrus Kocherla. “Each minute the person goes without treatment their chances of survival drop 7-10 %. It is critical that 911 be called immediately and someone begin CPR. When EMS arrives, heart function can be restored by using a defibrillator.”
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is different from a Myocardial Infarction (MI) or traditional heart attack. The MI often gives the person signs of an oncoming attack – pressure on the chest, pain in the shoulders and neck, shortness of breath and cold sweat. In Sudden Cardiac Arrest there are no warning signs before the loss of heart function. This potentially catastrophic onset makes immediate treatment and long-term prevention extraordinarily important.
Some 80% ofsudden cardiac events happen at home. Only 5% of people, who do not make it to the hospital immediately, survive. This emphasizes the importance of friends and family members taking immediate action.
An increasing number of public locations – malls, hotels, schools, businesses and golf courses – are equipped with Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) that are designed to be used by untrained bystanders. Look for the location of the AEDs whenever you are in a public setting.
If blocked arteries caused the heart to stop, a stent can open, or surgery can bypass the clogged blood vessels. After surgery, you may be placed on one or several medications, such as Beta-blockers, cholesterol-lowering Statins or ACE Inhibitors, which work to lower blood pressure.
PREVENTING SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST
Since most Cardiac Arrests are caused by fast dangerous heartbeats, future episodes can be prevented with an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator (ICD). Similar in size to a pacemaker, the ICD senses when a heart is going into a dangerous rhythm and uses an electrical current to regenerate a regular heartbeat.
Patients with Congestive Heart Failure, an ongoing decline in heart function, live with an increased chance of Sudden Cardiac Death that is 6-9 times higher than the general population.
In addition to taking some of the medications mentioned earlier, Congestive Heart Failure patients need to control their weight, eat a heart healthy diet and get regular exercise. Some patients with Congestive Heart Failure may need a defibrillator to protect them from Sudden Cardiac Death.
ACTION YOU CAN TAKE
Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the number one cause of death in this country, taking more lives than Stroke, Lung Cancer, Breast Cancer and AIDS combined. Once every 80 seconds a person is hit with Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
If you think you might be “at risk” of a Sudden Cardiac Arrest, see a cardiologist as soon as possible. Their diagnostic testing and intervention could save you and your family from a life-or-death crisis.
Find a cardiologist near you.
Sources include: McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, New England Journal of Medicine, Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, American Heart Journal, Annals of Emergency Medicine, Journal of American Cardiology, American Journal of Emergency Medicine