Sudden Cardiac Arrest

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, causing blood to stop flowing to the brain and vital organs. If not treated within minutes, SCA can cause death.

SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked, but the heart usually continues to beat. SCA is caused by a problem with the electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat, causing irregular heartbeats that can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body.

SCA and heart attack are sometimes linked, however. Damage to the heart muscle after a heart attack can also damage the heart’s electrical system. That’s why SCA may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.

What are the signs and symptoms?

Usually, the first sign of a sudden cardiac arrest is loss of consciousness. In the hour prior to SCA, some people have chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting. Some experience a racing heartbeat, dizziness or lightheadedness before losing consciousness. Some patients suffer SCA with no symptoms or warning.

Methods of treatment

SCA usually causes death within just a few minutes if left untreated. However, defibrillator treatment and CPR significantly increases the chances of survival. Even people without medical training can use a special kind of defibrillator called an AED (automatic external defibrillator) to save the lives of SCA victims. Because they are so effective, AEDs are now commonly found in public places such as airports, schools, sports venues and shopping centers. Of course, it is important to quickly seek medical attention whether or not an AED is available.