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    6 things a cardiologist wants you to know about sudden cardiac arrest

    By Emily Hagan | Published on Oct 17, 2023

    Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating due to an electrical disturbance. While it may seem similar to a heart attack, there are significant differences between the two. In this article, we will explore six important things you should know about sudden cardiac arrest.

    1. Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack Are Different

    It’s crucial to understand that sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack happens when there is a sudden reduction in blood flow to the heart due to a blockage in one of the arteries. This results in severe chest pain. On the other hand, sudden cardiac arrest occurs when there is a disruption in the heart’s electrical signals, leading to the sudden stoppage of its normal activity. While a major heart attack can sometimes trigger sudden cardiac arrest, there are various other causes, including genetic conditions and heart muscle diseases.

    2. Understanding the Risk Factors Is Vital

    Ischemic heart disease, also known as coronary artery disease, is one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac arrest. This condition arises from the narrowing of the arteries supplying blood to the heart. It can weaken the heart over time and lead to scar formation, increasing the risk of electrical disturbances that cause sudden cardiac arrest. Therefore, the risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and smoking, are also risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest. Additionally, having a family history of sudden cardiac arrest raises the risk, particularly for inherited or genetic conditions associated with SCA.

    3. Warning Signs Can Aid in Detection

    While it’s challenging to predict when an SCA event will occur, identifying individuals with risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest is essential. Managing and reducing these risk factors through lifestyle changes, smoking cessation, proper treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and ischemic heart disease can help decrease the likelihood of future SCA events. Recent research suggests that some individuals may experience warning signs such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting spells in the days leading up to sudden cardiac arrest. Increasing public awareness about these symptoms and encouraging timely medical attention can potentially prevent some of these events.

    4. The Pandemic’s Impact on Sudden Cardiac Arrest Incidence

    The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has presented unique challenges concerning sudden cardiac arrest. Several regions worldwide have seen a significant increase in the incidence of SCA during the pandemic. This rise can be attributed to both the direct effects of COVID-19, which can cause severe respiratory distress, and indirect effects, such as overwhelmed hospital and emergency systems, as well as individuals avoiding seeking medical care due to fear of the virus. Therefore, any new or unusual chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, or other symptoms should be taken seriously, especially for individuals at risk of cardiac events, such as older adults and those with cardiac risk factors.

    5. Knowledge of What to Do in the Event of Cardiac Arrest Can Save Lives

    Time is critical in managing sudden cardiac arrest. When the heart stops beating, irreversible brain damage can occur within just four minutes due to the lack of blood flow. Performing immediate cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), which includes cardiac massage and rescue breathing, should be the first priority. Proper and timely CPR performed by bystanders or witnesses to the SCA event can significantly improve survival chances. Additionally, using a defibrillator to shock the heart can restore a normal rhythm in many cases.

    6. Sudden Cardiac Arrest Is Hard to Predict

    Sudden cardiac arrest has a low overall survival rate of less than 10%, emphasizing the importance of trying to predict and prevent it. While there is no foolproof method to predict SCA, researchers have studied various markers for long-term risk prediction. These markers include the heart’s pumping strength measured through an echocardiogram scan, readings from an electrocardiogram (ECG), and the presence of irregular rhythms detected during extended ECG monitoring. Identifying individuals at high risk for sudden cardiac arrest using these markers may allow for preventive measures such as medications or other strategies. Additionally, it’s worth noting that some victims may experience warning symptoms in the weeks, days, or hours leading up to sudden cardiac arrest.

    In conclusion, understanding the distinctions between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack, recognizing the risk factors, being aware of warning signs, and knowing what to do in the event of cardiac arrest can potentially save lives. While predicting sudden cardiac arrest remains challenging, ongoing research and increased public awareness can help reduce its occurrence and improve outcomes.

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