Sudden Cardiac Arrest: The Silent Killer


What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest or SCA is a condition where the heart unexpectedly stops beating. This causes blood to stop flowing to the brain and to other vital organs. If not treated within minutes, Sudden Cardiac Arrest can cause death.  In fact, more than 350,000 deaths occur each year as a result of SCA. Because of this, the Heart and Rhythm Society created Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month to help the public become more informed about the deadly condition. Here is Sudden Cardiac Awareness at a glance:

  • SCA strikes people of all ages who may seem to be healthy, even children and teens.
  • SCA claims one life every two minutes.
  • More than 350,000 deaths occur each year as a result of Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
  • SCA takes more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer, or AIDS.
  • African Americans, specifically African American women, have a higher risk of experiencing SCA than White Americans.
  • About one in ten EMS-treated victims survive Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
  • 65% of Americans incorrectly believe that SCA is a type of heart attack and underestimate the seriousness of SCA.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Vs. Heart Attack
What is the difference between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and a heart attack? Most people think they are one in the same, but they are not.  A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart is blocked. Heart attack symptoms often start slowly and can occur over a period of hours or even days. During a heart attack, the heart is usually still beating.

When SCA occurs, it is often without warning. The heart completely stops beating after an electrical malfunction in the heart causes an irregular heartbeat. A heart attack could be compared to a “plumbing” problem with the heart, while Sudden Cardiac Arrest would be an “electrical” problem. Though they are different conditions, they aren’t completely unrelated. SCA can occur after or during recovery from a heart attack.
Responding to Sudden Cardiac Arrest
The first symptom of SCA is usually fainting and not having a detectable pulse. If this happens to someone near you, the first thing to do is call 9-1-1. Sudden Cardiac Arrest is an emergency! Next, you need to find an automated external defibrillator or AED, or ask someone around you to find one while you perform CPR. AEDs are generally found in most public places like airports, shopping malls and hotels and are made for the untrained layperson to use. They often give audio and/or visual instructions and only emit an electric shock if an irregular heart arrhythmia is detected. This prevents someone who is not experiencing Sudden Cardiac Arrest from getting an unneeded shock. With every minute that passes where there is no AED being used or CPR being performed, the chances of the person surviving drop rapidly. Time is of the essence!

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention
Sudden Cardiac Arrest can occur at any age, even children and teens. More than 7,000 children under the age of 18 experience SCA each year, even though the average victim’s age is 60.  It can occur for any number of reasons including trauma, drowning, electrocution, drug overdose or a blow to the chest. SCA can also be caused from abnormalities of the heart and the heart’s electrical symptoms.

Depending on your health status, there are different ways that SCA can be prevented. If you’ve already had Sudden Cardiac Arrest, you are a high risk for experiencing it again. Use of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) can reduce your chances of dying from a second episode of SCA.  If you haven’t had SCA but have ischemic heart disease, you are an increased risk for SCA, especially if you have already had a heart attack. Beta blockers and other medication are often helpful for preventing SCA in this case. If you have no known risk factors for Sudden Cardiac Arrest, follow a heart-healthy lifestyle to lower your chances. This can include:

  • Healthy eating
  • Aiming for a healthy weight
  • Physical activity
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing stress 

Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month represents a critical initiative to educate the public about this deadly condition. Know the symptoms and risk factors to help save a life, possibly even your own.
The information provided in this blog post is intended to provide helpful information on the subjects discussed. This blog post is not meant to be used, nor should it be used, to diagnose or treat any medical condition. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition, consult your physician. Emergency Medical Products is not liable for any damages or negative consequences from any treatment, action or preparation, to any person reading the information in this blog post.