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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part I of II

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Part I of II

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart stops beating, without warning in an abrupt manner.   If this occurs, blood stops flowing to vital organs and the brain.   Further, if the heartbeat is not restored with an immediate electrical shock, death follows within minutes.   More than 350,000 deaths in the U.S. each year and 36,000 deaths in Canada each year are caused by SCA.


In the U.S., SCA claims one life every 90 seconds, more than breast cancer, AIDS or lung cancer.   Because treatment within minutes is not accessible, 95% of people who experience SCA die as a result.


SCA versus a Heart Attack

Many people don’t know the difference between a heart attack and SCA.  Since time is crucial to saving a life who is having a sudden cardiac arrest, it helps to know the difference.


When SCA occurs, the heart’s electrical system is what is affected.   During SCA, the heart stops beating and blood is not pumped to the body.   An analogy to this could be compared to losing your electricity in your house.   Typically through electrical shock, the heart “electricity” must be turned back on.


A heart attack, known as a myocardial infarction (MI), affects the heart’s “plumbing”.   A heart attack is caused by blockages in a blood vessel which interrupts the flow of blood.   This causes the area of the heart muscle that is supposed to receive oxygen and nutrients from the blocked vessel to die.   An analogy to this could be compared to losing water in a house due to a backup in a plumbing line in a house.   The heart must be “unclogged,” with drug therapy, surgery or angioplasty, to continue the blood flow to the rest of the body.


While both cause major problems and possible death, SCA occurs often abruptly and without warning.   In fact, over 60% of SCA deaths occur prior to any indications of heart disease, while MIs often have previous symptoms and signs.

MI or arrest Image

Who is at Risk?


SCA can occur in people of all ages and health conditions.   While symptoms or signs are often not present, there are certain high risk conditions for SCA:


  • A low ejection fraction (EF): The ejection fraction measures the amount of blood that is pumped by the ventricles with each heart beat.   Normally, a healthy heart pumps 55 percent or more of its blood with each beat.  If the heart pumps less than 35 percent of its blood, an individual is at an elevated risk of having a SCA
  • A previous heart attack: People who have had a heart attack are at greater risk of having a SCA — In fact over ¾ of people who die of SCA show signs of a previous MI.
  • An abnormal heart rhythm or heart rate of an unknown cause
  • Episodes of fainting due to an unknown cause
  • A sporadic unusually rapid heart rate that occurs even when the person is at rest
  • A family history of heart failure, massive heart attack or sudden death
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