Sudden Cardiac Arrest: an emergency situation

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA usually causes death if it’s not treated within minutes.

SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn’t suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.

Ventricular fibrillation (v-fib) causes most sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs). V-fib is a type of arrhythmia. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Some arrhythmias can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body—these arrhythmias cause SCA.

During v-fib, the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) don’t beat normally. Instead, they quiver very rapidly and irregularly. When this happens, the heart pumps little or no blood to the body. V-fib is fatal if not treated within a few minutes.

Coronary Heart Disease seems to cause most cases of SCA in adults. Many adults, however, have no signs or symptoms of CHD before having SCA. CHD is a disease in which a waxy substance called plaque (plak) builds up in the coronary arteries. These arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle.

Other problems with the heart’s electrical system also can cause SCA. For example, SCA can occur if the rate of the heart’s electrical signals becomes very slow and stops. SCA also can occur if the heart muscle doesn’t respond to the heart’s electrical signals. Certain diseases and conditions can cause the electrical problems that lead to SCA. Other causes are physical stress, inherited disorders, or structural changes within the heart.

People who have heart disease are at higher risk for SCA. However, SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors for SCA.

Usually the first sign of Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a loss of consciousness. At this time, no heart beat can be felt. Some people may also experience a racing heartbeat of feel dizzy or lightheaded. Within an hour before SCA, some people may experience chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, or vomiting.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an emergency, and should rightly be treated as such. A person’s life hangs in the balance and needs to be treated with a defibrillator right away. Most people who have SCA die from it—often within minutes. Rapid treatment of SCA with a defibrillator can be lifesaving. A defibrillator is a device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm. To work well, defibrillation must be done within minutes of SCA. With every minute that passes, the chances of surviving SCA drop rapidly.

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be used by bystanders to save the lives of people who are having SCA. These portable devices often are found in public places, such as shopping malls, golf courses, businesses, airports, airplanes, casinos, convention centers, hotels, sports venues, and schools.

Police, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders are also usually trained and equipped to use a defibrillator. Call 9–1–1 right away if someone has signs or symptoms of SCA. The sooner you call for help, the sooner lifesaving treatment can begin.

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