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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part II of II

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Every Minute Counts

During SCA, the amount of time it takes to get treatment and help is the difference between life and death.   95% of individuals who experience SCA die because life-saving defibrillation is not received within four to six minutes, before brain and permanent death occur.


If a SCA emergency is suspected, these steps should be followed:


  1. Know the signs of SCA in order to react quickly.  SCA strikes without warning.  Victims will collapse, become unresponsive and will either stop breathing or not breathe normally.
  2. Call 911 ASAP.
  3. Start CPR as soon as it’s possible.   If you do not know CPR, conduct Hands-Only CPR.  This is where one performs chest compressions by pushing fast and hard in the middle of the victim’s chest with minimal to no interruptions at approximately 100 beats per minute.   Studies of emergencies have shown Hands-Only CPR, to be just as effective as conventional CPR.
  4. If available, as soon as possible, use an automated external defibrillator (AED).   AEDs can check a person’s heart rhythm and deliver a shock to a heart that requires it.


Prevention and Treatment

While often there aren’t any signs or symptoms prior to SCA, there are some things people can do to decrease its likelihood.


  • Live a healthy lifestyle — eat healthy foods, avoid smoking and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Monitor and treat all health conditions including high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure.   Ask a doctor about ejection fraction monitoring to determine if there is elevated risk.
  • Stop or control abnormal heart rhythms that may trigger life threatening arrhythmias through implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), proper medication, and in some, cases surgical procedures.
  • Know your family heart history and understand the risks for other cardiovascular-related conditions, such as heart failure.   Communicate these to a physician.


While treatment guidelines recommend ICDs as the standard of care for patients at risk for SCA, a large percentage of patients with the highest risk do not receive this treatment.   The most common cause of SCA is an abnormal and  dangerous heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF).  In VF, the electrical signals that control the ventricles, the lower chambers of the heart, become chaotic.   This sends the ventricles into fibrillation, an extremely irregular and rapid quivering that cannot effectively pump blood to the body.

With blood not getting to the brain, a person who experiences VF will lose consciousness in a few seconds.   SCA and death can follow within minutes unless the heart is quickly shocked back into its normal rhythm.   This is done using a defibrillator (a machine that delivers an electrical shock to the heart).   The majority of VF victims die from SCA before they even reach a hospital.


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