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Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Facts*

  • Sudden cardiac arrest is a situation that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating effectively and blood is not circulated by the heart; about 95% of individuals that have sudden cardiac arrest die from this condition.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest is usually due to an arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that causes the heart to stop pumping blood to the body.
  • Undiagnosed coronary artery disease is a major risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest
  • People at risk for sudden cardiac arrest include individuals with coronary artery disease, severe physical stress, individuals with electrical or structural changes in the heart, and those with inherited cardiac disorders.
  • The first sign of sudden cardiac arrest may be loss of consciousness (fainting) and/or no heartbeat or pulse; some individuals may have a racing heartbeat, dizziness, chest pain and shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting before a sudden cardiac arrest occurs - many individuals have no signs whatsoever and simply collapse.
  • Sudden cardiac arrest is usually diagnosed after it occurs: physicians may utilize tests such as EKG's, MUGA, cardiac catheterization, electrophysiology tests and blood tests on those patients that survive an arrest to determine underlying causes.
  • Treatment of a sudden cardiac arrest requires a defibrillator to shock the heart to restore a normal rhythm to the heart; this defibrillation must be done within a few minutes of the sudden cardiac arrest to be effective.
  • Preventing sudden cardiac arrests centers on reducing the known causes that contribute to cardiac arrest such as lifestyle changes to prevent coronary artery disease, healthy diets, reducing stress, and getting regular exercise; for individuals with heart problems, taking the appropriate medications and adjusting their lifestyle may reduce risk – some individuals that have survived a sudden cardiac arrest and a few others that have electrophysiological problems may benefit from an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD) that detects arrhythmias automatically and then shock the patient's heart back into a normal rhythm.

*Facts by Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

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Sudden Cardiac Death and Cardiac Arrest

Causes of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Medical Author: Benjamin C. Wedro, MD, FAAEM, FACEP
Medical Editors: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

On June 25, 2009, paramedics were called to the home of Michael Jackson responding to calls that he wasn't breathing. They found him in cardiac arrest and started CPR. He was transported to UCLA medical center were numerous attempts to restart his heart failed and he was pronounced dead.

Every day, calls come into the 911 emergency dispatch centers across the country with frantic voices crying for help. A person can't be wakened, breathing has stopped, and a pulsecan't be felt. Cardiac arrest, the failure of the heart's electrical conducting system to generate a heart beat, marks the end of life. No matter what the cause, death happens when the heart stops beating.

The heart is an electrical pump. The mechanical pumping action that circulates blood requires an organized electrical system to get the heart muscleto squeeze. There are many reasons for the electrical activity to fail, and it's almost always due to irritable heart muscle cells that, in effect, cause a short circuit.

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