Symptoms and Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/21/2022

Doctor's Notes on Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) describes a condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating and blood stops circulating through the body. If not treated immediately, patients who experience sudden cardiac arrest will die. Most cases of sudden cardiac arrest are caused by a type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) called ventricular fibrillation, or v-fib. The major risk factor for sudden cardiac arrest is undiagnosed coronary artery disease (CAD). Some people may also have an undiagnosed heart attack before a sudden cardiac arrest occurs.

In both CAD and heart attack, patients often have no symptoms to alert them of their condition until a sudden cardiac arrest occurs.

What is the treatment for sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac death is a medical emergency; treatment needs to be immediate:

  • Call for emergency help – call 911 or have someone call for you
  • CPR treatment
  • At the same time, check for a pulse and normal breathing – if the person is not breathing normally and/or has no pulse, consider doing immediate CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and/or defibrillation treatment with an AED device (AED also termed automated external defibrillator device). If the device is available (usually available in many public places), follow the instructions for use printed on the device
  • Defibrillator treatment (AED) – place AED pads and follow instructions to deliver an appropriate electrical shock to the heart to stop chaotic heartbeats and thus may allow the heart to resume regular beats
  • The patient may resume/resolve some symptoms after CPR and/or AED treatment; if not, continue CPR and emergency transport to the hospital
  • Transport to the nearest emergency department by ambulance, if possible, even if symptoms resolve
Emergency medical caregivers ideally can begin other treatments as needed (for example oxygen and pain control) during transport to and at the hospital. Use of a private vehicle to the hospital (your car or truck, for example) is not recommended.

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REFERENCE:

Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.