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Sudden Cardiac Arrest (cont.)

How Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Diagnosed?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) happens without warning. It requires immediate emergency treatment. Doctors rarely can diagnose sudden cardiac arrest with medical tests as it's happening.

Instead, sudden cardiac arrest often is diagnosed after it happens. Doctors do this by ruling out other causes of a person's sudden collapse.

Specialists Involved

If you're at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest, you may see a cardiologist. This is a doctor who specializes in heart diseases and conditions. Your cardiologist will work with you to decide whether you need treatment to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

Some cardiologists specialize in problems with the heart's electrical system. These specialists are called cardiac electrophysiologists.

Diagnostic Tests and Procedures

Doctors use several tests to help detect the factors that put people at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.

EKG (Electrocardiogram)

An EKG is a simple, painless test that records the heart's electrical activity. This test is used to detect and locate the source of several heart problems.

An EKG shows how fast the heart is beating and the heart's rhythm (steady or irregular). It also records the strength and timing of electrical signals as they pass through each part of the heart.

An EKG may show whether you've had a heart attack.


Echocardiography (EK-o-kar-de-OG-ra-fee) is a painless test that uses sound waves to create pictures of your heart. It provides your doctor with information about the size and shape of your heart and how well your heart's chambers and valves are working.

The test also can find areas of heart muscle that aren't contracting normally due to poor blood flow or injury from a previous heart attack.

There are several different types of echocardiography, including stress echocardiography. This type is done both before and after a cardiac stress test. During this test, you exercise or take medicine (given by your doctor) to make your heart work hard and beat fast.

Stress echocardiography shows whether you have decreased blood flow to your heart (a sign of coronary artery disease).

MUGA Test or Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging

A MUGA test shows how well your heart is pumping blood. For this test, a small amount of radioactive substance is injected into a vein and travels to your heart. The substance releases energy, which special cameras outside of your body detect. The cameras use the energy to create pictures of different parts of your heart.

Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a safe procedure that uses radio waves and magnets to create detailed pictures of your heart. The test creates images of your heart as it is beating, producing both still and moving pictures of your heart and major blood vessels.

Doctors use cardiac MRI to get images of the beating heart and to look at the structure and function of the heart.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a procedure used to diagnose and treat certain heart conditions. A long, thin, flexible tube called a catheter is put into a blood vessel in your arm, groin (upper thigh), or neck and threaded to your heart. Through the catheter, your doctor can do diagnostic tests and treatments on your heart.

Sometimes a special dye is put into the catheter to make the inside of your heart and blood vessels show up on x rays. The dye can show whether plaque has narrowed or blocked any of your coronary arteries.

Electrophysiology Study

For an electrophysiology study, doctors use cardiac catheterization to record how your heart's electrical system responds to certain medicines and electrical stimulation. This helps your doctor find where the heart's electrical system is damaged.

Blood Tests

You may have blood tests to check the levels of potassium, magnesium, and other chemicals in your blood that play an important role in your heart's electrical signaling.

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