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Sudden Cardiac Arrest (cont.)

How Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Treated?

Emergency Treatment

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) requires immediate treatment with a defibrillator. This device sends an electric shock to the heart. The electric shock may restore a normal rhythm to a heart that's stopped beating.

To work well, defibrillation must be done within minutes of sudden cardiac arrest. With every minute that passes, the chances of surviving sudden cardiac arrest drop rapidly.

Police, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders usually are trained and equipped to use a defibrillator. Call 9–1–1 right away if someone has signs or symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest. The sooner help is called, the sooner potentially lifesaving treatment can be done.

Automated External Defibrillators

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are special defibrillators that untrained bystanders can use. These devices are becoming more available in public places like airports, office buildings, and shopping centers.

AEDs are programmed to give an electric shock if they detect a dangerous arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation. This prevents giving a shock to someone who may have fainted but isn't having sudden cardiac arrest.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be given to a person having sudden cardiac arrest until defibrillation can be done.

People who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest may want to consider having an AED at home. Currently, one AED, the Phillips HeartStart Home Defibrillator, is sold over-the-counter for home use.

The benefits of home-use AEDs are still debated. Some people feel that placing these devices in homes will save many lives, because many sudden cardiac arrests occur at home.

Others note that no evidence supports the idea that home-use AEDs save more lives. These people fear that people who have AEDs in their homes will delay calling for help during an emergency. They're also concerned that people who have home-use AEDs will not properly maintain the devices or forget where they are.

A large study on AEDs is currently under way. It may provide information on the pros and cons of having an AED in the home.

When considering a home-use AED, talk to your doctor. He or she can help you decide whether having an AED in your home will benefit you.

Treatment in a Hospital

If you survive sudden cardiac arrest, you usually will be admitted to a hospital for observation and treatment. In the hospital, your medical team will closely watch your heart. They may give you medicines to try to reduce the chance of another sudden cardiac arrest.

While in the hospital, your medical team will try to find out what caused your sudden cardiac arrest. If you're diagnosed with coronary artery disease, you may have angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting. These procedures help restore blood flow through narrowed or blocked coronary arteries.

Often, people who have sudden cardiac arrest get a device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This small device is surgically placed under the skin in your chest or abdomen. An ICD uses electric pulses or shocks to help control dangerous arrhythmias.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/20/2014

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