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Sudden Cardiac Arrest: What is it?

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness month, which is designed to help educate and prevent future tragedies. Sudden cardiac arrest is different from what we expect or have come to know with heart attacks and it’s crucial to know the difference. In this week’s Health Journal, we’ll talk about those key differences, how prevalent sudden cardiac arrest is and who may be at a heightened risk.

What is it and how is it different than a heart attack?

Sudden cardiac arrest gets its name from being exactly that, sudden. It occurs very quickly, without warning, and is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat. The irregular heartbeat causes the heart’s naturally pumping action to be disrupted and therefore, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. Often within seconds, a victim will lose conspicuousness and if not treated, death can occur within minutes. A few of the major symptoms are listed below:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness

So as described above, sudden cardiac arrest is essentially an electrical mix-up within your heart that leads to a lack of blood flow to your primary organs. Heart attacks are different and here’s how.

Heart attacks occur when a blocked artery prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of our heart. The blocked artery backs up the blood and if it is not re-opened quickly enough, the part of the heart that is fed by the blocked artery will begin to die. The longer one goes without treatment, the greater the damage will be.

Symptoms of a heart attack can be immediate and intense, but more often the symptoms start slowly and persist for hours before the heart attack occurs. The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack, which is another key difference with sudden cardiac arrest. A few of the major heart attack symptoms are listed below.

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Feeling weak, light-headed or faint
  • Pain or discomfort in jaw, neck or back
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms or shoulders
  • Shortness of breath

How prevalent is it and who’s at risk?

Sudden cardiac arrest can strike at any time and is the largest cause of natural death in the United States. Sudden cardiac arrest is responsible for about 325,000 adult deaths in the United States each year and responsible for half of all heart disease deaths. It occurs most commonly in older adults and affects men twice as often as it does women. This condition can also occur in children, although it is rare, affecting only 1 to 2 per 100,000 children each year.

As the statistics show, sudden cardiac arrest is very prevalent among us in the United States, but there are risk factors that show some of us might be more concerned than others.

Risk Factors:

  • Previous heart attack
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Personal or family history of sudden cardiac arrest
  • History of syncope
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Recreational drug use

What to do?

If you have ever experienced a sudden cardiac arrest situation or attended any training, you understand that things happen fast and often panic will set in. Even in the panic of a life or death situation, there are steps you can take to help someone and possibly save a life. Here are a few tips for everyone to use if the time ever calls for it.

  • Get help: Yelling for help or signaling someone nearby to call 911 or your emergency response number, will allow you to be hands-free and address the potential patient directly. If you’re alone, it’s best to call 911 and try to find an AED if available.
  • Check breathing: If the person is no longer breathing or is just gasping for air, start administering CPR.
  • Give CPR: Remember with CPR it’s important to push hard and fast to find the appropriate rhythm. Push down at least two inches at a rate of 100-120 pushes per minute in the center of the chest. When pressing down, allow the chest to come back up to its normal resting position after each press.
  • Use an AED: Use the automated external defibrillator as soon as it arrives, because the sooner the treatment is administered the best chance for a full recovery. To use, just turn on the AED and follow the prompts.
  • Keep pushing: Continue administering CPR until the person starts to either breathe, move or someone more qualified is able to relieve you and take over.

Sources:

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks/heart-attack-or-sudden-cardiac-arrest-how-are-they-different#:~:text=A%20heart%20attack%20is%20when,is%20an%20%E2%80%9Celectrical%E2%80%9D%20problem.

https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-arrest/emergency-treatment-of-cardiac-arrest

https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/sudden-cardiac-arrest#:~:text=Risk%20Factors,-The%20risk%20of&text=Men%20are%20more%20likely%20than,a%20higher%20risk%20for%20SCA.

https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/17522-sudden-cardiac-death-sudden-cardiac-arrest

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