Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for an estimated 326,000 deaths each year—more than lung cancer, breast cancer and HIV/AIDS combined.1 It claims a life every two minutes.
One misconception is that SCA is the same as a heart attack, but it is not. A heart attack is a condition in which the blood supply to the heart is suddenly blocked, resulting in the death of the heart muscle. Symptoms of a heart attack can vary; they may come on suddenly or start slowly and persist for hours, days, or weeks. Heart-attack victims typically experience chest pain, discomfort in the back or jaw, nausea and/or vomiting, and typically remain conscious. Heart attacks are serious and can sometimes lead to SCA; however, SCA may occur independently from a heart attack and without warning signs.
Cardiac arrest happens suddenly; the heart unexpectedly and abruptly stops beating properly when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This is typically caused by an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF) where the heart just quivers and cannot effectively pump blood. The only effective treatment for VF is an electrical shock administered by an automated external defibrillator (AED) followed by high-quality cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
While the average age of sudden cardiac arrest victims is mid-60s, sudden cardiac arrest
is unpredictable and can strike anyone, anywhere, anytime. Some risk factors include:
• Family history of cardiac arrest in a first-degree relative: two-fold increase in risk of SCA2
• Underlying coronary heart disease (CHD)3
• A personal or family history of inherited disorders that make you prone to arrhythmias3
(abnormal heart rhythm)
• A personal history of arrhythmias3
• Heart attack3
• Heart failure3
• Commotio cordis – a term referring to SCA resulting from a blow to the chest
• Drug or alcohol abuse
Regardless of the cause, SCA results in death if not treated immediately; however, it can
be treated successfully with CPR, defibrillation, and advanced life support, making access to
AEDs critically important.
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