Casually regarded, the term “sudden cardiac arrest” sounds much like a synonym for heart attack. However, though sometimes related, these are very different conditions, even though both are medical emergencies requiring immediate treatment.
If you have certain heart conditions or if you have one or more risk factors, you may have increased chances of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. Here’s what you need to know.
What happens during sudden cardiac arrest
Triggered by a problem with the electrical impulses that guide your heart’s beating, sudden cardiac arrest sees the heart literally stopping, usually immediately and without warning.
Blood no longer flows to the brain and other organs in the body. The patient loses consciousness in seconds and has no pulse. Without immediate resuscitation, the patient will die within minutes.
How sudden cardiac arrest is different from heart attack
Heart attacks occur when a blockage prevents blood flow to sections of the heart. If the blockage isn’t cleared, the tissue in this section starts to die, with damage increasing the longer the patient goes without treatment.
While heart attacks can have a fast onset, it’s more typical for symptoms to start slowly. These symptoms may be present for minutes, hours, days, or weeks before the heart attack itself begins. In most cases, the heart never stops beating completely, although a heart attack can trigger the electrical disruption that causes sudden cardiac arrest.
Causes of sudden cardiac arrest
In healthy people, a heart arrhythmia that causes sudden cardiac arrest doesn’t usually occur unless there is some external trigger, such as a severe electrical shock, trauma to the chest, or illegal drug use.
Usually, a person at risk of sudden cardiac arrest will have a pre-existing condition that contributes to a sudden coronary event. Some of the most common heart conditions involved include:
Coronary artery disease
Perhaps the most common contributor to sudden cardiac arrest, coronary artery disease develops from arteries clogged with cholesterol and other substances. Reduced blood flow because of this clogging weakens the conductivity necessary for transmission of the heart’s normal electrical signals.
Congenital heart disease
A heart condition present at birth may increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, particularly in younger patients. Even when corrective surgery for such a heart defect is performed, the patient continues to have an elevated risk of cardiac arrest.
A heart attack episode may cause sudden cardiac arrest, but even when it doesn’t, you’ll have an elevated risk of experiencing cardiac arrest if the heart attack leaves behind scar tissue.
Commonly called an enlarged heart, cardiomyopathy leads to stretched or thickened heart muscles. These abnormalities can interfere with the heart’s electrical signals.
Sometimes, the electrical system of the heart may itself have irregularities, called primary heart rhythm abnormalities, which include conditions such as long QT syndrome and Brugada syndrome.
Any time you feel you have an elevated risk of cardiac problems, contact Dr. Shareghi at the Cardiovascular Care Center to schedule an appointment, by phone or online. Your heart health is central to your well-being.