SUDDEN CARDIAC ARREST
Sudden cardiac death also known as sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops pumping.
What is a sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions. It is not a heart attack! A heart attack is when a blockage in a blood vessel interrupts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart causing the death of the heart muscle.
SCA occurs when there is an electrical problem, and a heart attack occurs when there is a circulation problem.
The most common cause of cardiac arrest is a heart rhythm disorder or arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (VF). The heart has a natural pacemaker, which triggers each heartbeat sending electrical impulses along various pathways in the heart, causing a contraction in normal sinus rhythm. When the contraction occurs, blood flows throughout the body.
However, in ventricular fibrillation, the electric signals controlling the heart because rapid and chaotic. Due to this, the lower chambers of the heart, the ventricles, quiver, or fibrillate instead of contracting, and they no longer pump blood throughout the body. When blood stops flowing normally, the brain becomes starved for oxygen, and the person loses consciousness in seconds. Unless the victim receives an emergency shock delivered to the heart using an automated external defibrillator (AED), death will occur within minutes. More than 70% of ventricular fibrillation victims die before ever reaching the hospital.
Who is at risk for sudden cardiac arrest?
Heart conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest:
Coronary Artery Disease
Enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy)
Valvular heart disease
Congenital heart disease
Electrical problems in the heart
Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest:
A family history of coronary artery disease
High blood pressure (Hypertension)
High cholesterol (Hyperlipidemia)
A sedentary lifestyle
Other factors that can increase your risk include:
A previous episode of cardiac arrest, family history of cardiac arrest
Previous history of a heart attack
Personal or family history of other forms of heart disease
Age-- the incidence of SCA increases with age
Using illegal drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines
Nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels
Obstructive sleep apnea
Chronic kidney disease
Learn more about your risk for sudden cardiac arrest
Heart Rythm Society has created a sudden cardiac arrest risk assessment. This risk assessment is purely informational, please consult with your physician regarding the results of the assessment.
This is CPR without mouth-to-mouth.
Learn more about the importance and effectiveness of hands-only CPR.
Remember these two steps if you witness a teen or adult suddenly collapse:
911 or your local emergency response number
hard and fast in the center of the chest
More about hands-only cpr
Mouth to mouth breathing is no longer needed for adults or teens in the first few minutes following a sudden cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association (2019) reports:
When a teen or adult suddenly collapses with cardiac arrest, his or her lungs and blood contain enough oxygen to keep vital organs healthy for the first few minutes, as long as someone provides high-quality chest compressions with minimal interruption to pump blood to the heart and brain. The cause is usually an abrupt onset of an abnormal heart rhythm, often ventricular fibrillation (VF). VF causes the heart to quiver so it doesn’t pump blood adequately to vital organs. Before a sudden collapse, the teen or adult was probably breathing normally. This means there may be enough oxygen in the person’s blood for the first several minutes after cardiac arrest. Many cardiac arrest victims have gasping, which could bring some oxygen into the lungs. If the victim’s airway is open, allowing the chest to expand back to its normal position after each compression may also bring some oxygen into the lungs. For these reasons, the most important thing someone near the victim can do for a person in sudden cardiac arrest is to pump blood to the brain and to the heart muscle, delivering the oxygen that still remains in the lungs and blood. Do this by giving high-quality chest compressions with minimal interruptions. Interruptions in compressions to give mouth-to-mouth breaths may bring some additional oxygen into the lungs, but the benefit of that oxygen can be offset if you stop the blood flow to the brain and heart muscle for more than a few seconds (especially in the first few minutes after a sudden cardiac arrest when there is still plenty of oxygen in the lungs and blood).
American Heart Association. (2019). Hands-Only CPR. Retrieved October 23, 2019, from
hands-only CPR sAVES LIVES
Americans are more likely to perform hands-only CPR on a teen or adult who suddenly collapses. Also, when people learn hands-only CPR it is remembered easier and is a very effective option for those who have been trained in CPR before but are wary to help because they are not confident in being able to perform conventional CPR.
Call 911 or your local emergency response number
Push hard and fast in the center of the chest, 2 inches in depth, 100-120 compression per minute to the rate of a popular song such as Stayin Alive by the Bee Gees. Check out our CPR playlist below, featuring songs at the appropriate beat for compressions.