Sudden Cardiac Arrest
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function which leads to a loss of blood pressure. The loss of blood pressure results in loss of consciousness (from loss of brain perfusion). Ultimately, people stop breathing (from loss of blood flow to the lungs, the brain, and the muscles that allow for inspiration).
What causes Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest usually results from an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) that disrupts the heart’s pumping action. The loss of the ability to pump blood results in a loss of oxygen delivery to the rest of the body. The result of this lack of blood flow is that the body’s organ systems begin to shut down. The organs that have the highest oxygen demand (brain, heart, kidneys, liver, etc) are the organs that develop irreversible damage the earliest.
Who is at risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Unfortunately, it is very difficult to predict who will or will not experience sudden cardiac arrest. However, there are certain diseases that are know to carry a high risk of developing sudden cardiac arrest. Patients with a history of congestive heart failure, prior ventricular arrhythmias, cardiac conduction abnormalities, certain genetic diseases affecting the heart, or unexplained syncope are known to be part of this high risk patient population. When patients have one of these disease states, they should be seen by a cardiologist to determine if preventatives measures, such as an implantable cardiac defibrillator, are indicated.
What are the symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms are immediate and drastic such as sudden collapse, lack of pulse, and loss of consciousness. Patients may have warning signs that they are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest such as syncope, chest pain, or weakness. However, sudden cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning. Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency and if not treated immediately, it results in death.
What is the treatment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
An individual experiencing sudden cardiac arrest must have their heart converted into a normal rhythm immediately to avoid irreversible, often fatal damage to their organ systems. The most common method of converting the abnormal rhythm to a normal rhythm in patients who do not have an ICD is by delivery of a shock by external pads from an automated external defibrillator (AED). AEDs are available at many public places (airports, malls, sporting venues, etc) and also are available for individual purchase.
An individual who survives sudden cardiac arrest or someone who is determined to be at a significantly elevated risk of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest may undergo implantation of an ICD for early detection and treatment of these dangerous rhythms. An ICD will monitor their heart for life threatening rhythms and convert the rhythm to a normal rhythm by pacing maneuvers or delivery of a shock.