What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest is a common cause of death. If not treated, sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal in mere minutes. Are you or a loved one at risk for this condition? Learn what you can do to protect yourself and your family. According to the American Heart Association there were 475,000 sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) deaths in the U.S in 2021, and less than 10% survive.
Sudden cardiac arrest happens when the heart suddenly stops pumping. This unexpected condition means that blood is no longer flowing to vital organs, like the brain. Sudden cardiac arrest is considered a medical emergency. If immediate action is not taken, about 95% of those who have sudden cardiac arrest will die within minutes.
Causes of Sudden Cardiac Arrest
The rate and rhythm of your heartbeat is regulated by an electrical system in your heart. When this system is not working correctly, irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias can occur. Arrhythmias can make your heart beat too fast, too slow or an erratic rhythm. These irregularities can cause the heart to stop beating or pumping blood.
Certain conditions may increase your chances of arrhythmias, including:
- Coronary artery disease, also known as ischemic heart disease
- Physical stress, such as intense physical activity, major blood loss or very low blood levels of potassium or magnesium
- Recreational drug use
- Changes in the heart such as scarring, structural changes, heart infections or thickened muscle. Such changes usually result from heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack or heart failure.
- Inherited disorders that lead to problems with the structure of your heart
- Taking heart medications
- Electrical or blood vessel abnormalities
Are You at Risk?
Certain factors can raise your risk for sudden cardiac arrest including:
- Age. Your risk for sudden cardiac arrest increases as you age.
- Gender. Men are twice as likely as women to be affected by cardiac arrest.
- Race. African American adults have a higher risk, especially if they have chronic health conditions like high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes or chronic kidney disease.
- Alcohol or drug abuse history
- History of heart conditions, such as heart attack, heart failure, coronary artery disease or irregular heartbeats
- Personal or family history of sudden cardiac arrest or inherited conditions that can cause arrhythmia
What You Can Do
Health experts say following a heart-healthy lifestyle may help in lowering your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Follow these tips to protect your heart:
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Exercise regularly.
- Choose heart-healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Don’t smoke or quit smoking if you are currently a smoker.
- Get enough sleep. Adults should strive for 7-9 hours of shut eye every night.
- Limit alcohol. Drinking in moderation means no more than two alcoholic drinks a day for men, no more than one drink for women.
- Keep stress under control.
- Manage any chronic conditions like coronary heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency as death can occur in minutes. Most cardiac arrest sufferers are not treated quickly enough in order to survive. Immediate use of CPR and a defibrillator can be lifesaving.
American Heart Association. (2021). About cardiac arrest. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-arrest/about-cardiac-arrest
American Heart Association. (2021). Causes of cardiac arrest. Retrieved from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-arrest/causes-of-cardiac-arrest
National Library of Medicine. (2015). How to prevent heart disease. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/howtopreventheartdisease.html
National Library of Medicine. (2021). Sudden cardiac arrest. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/suddencardiacarrest.html
Texas Heart Institute. (n.d.). Sudden cardiac arrest. Retrieved from https://www.texasheart.org/heart-health/heart-information-center/topics/sudden-cardiac-arrest/