Heart of a champion

Your Health, Men's Health, Women's Health | 4 years ago

Cardiac Arrest: What to Know

Sudden cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. Without quick treatment, a person experiencing SCA will die within minutes. By learning CPR and how to use an AED, you can help save a life. 

You likely know someone affected by heart disease. About 630,00 Americans die from heart disease each year – that’s one in every four deaths. Of those deaths, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is responsible for more than 300,000 each year. SCA is unpredictable and is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to its vital organs.

Heart Attack or SCA: Know the Difference

Despite popular belief that a heart attack and cardiac arrest are one and the same, it’s important to recognize that these two conditions are very different.

“A heart attack is the death of heart muscle,” says Rohit Mehta, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Atrium Health Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute. It’s a circulation problem that occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. If the blocked artery is not reopened quickly, the tissue sustained by that artery becomes starved for oxygen and begins to die. Symptoms start slowly and can continue for up to several weeks before a heart attack occurs. The longer a person goes without treatment, the greater the damage.

While a person suffering a heart attack may remain conscious, a person suffering from SCA almost immediately becomes unresponsive with no pulse. Death can occur within minutes if the victim does not receive treatment. Any bystander should call 9-1-1 as soon as possible if they see someone go into cardiac arrest. If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, they should use it and begin CPR until emergency medical services arrive.

What’s an AED?

An automated external defibrillator is a battery-operated, portable device that checks the heart rhythm and delivers an electric shock through the chest to the heart to try to restore a normal rhythm. To use, a person must simply attach the electrodes to the chest of the person experiencing SCA. From there, turn on the AED’s power and follow the step-by-step instructions. These devices are most commonly found in places with large numbers of people, including shopping malls, business offices, airports, hotels, schools and many other places. A personal AED can also be easily purchased for at-home use.  

Living Life After SCA 

While 90% of people who experience SCA die from it, life goes on for the remaining 10% who survive. “A lot of the long-term effects are psychological,” says Dr. Mehta. Many survivors experience varying levels of denial. While this is perfectly normal, it’s important that SCA survivors engage their support centers. Often learning about cardiac arrest can help them accept it and recover more fully. 

In the weeks following cardiac arrest, those affected can expect changes in ways of thinking about themselves and life in addition to changes in their health and behavior. Dr. Mehta suggests that survivors start basic secondary prevention habits. Getting regular exercise, treating sleep apnea, improving your diet (learn more about a whole foods plant based diet) and lowering blood pressure are just a few of the many reverse risk factors that help to maintain good levels of health.

Despite all of these challenges, SCA survivors can often return to normal life not long after the event. But if the emotional and mental challenges aren’t going way, talk to your doctor for help maintaining your health and coping with the aftermath of your SCA experience. 

A healthy heart lets you stay focused on doing what you love. Learn how Sanger Heart & Vascular Institute can help you keep your heart healthy.