Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

Sudden Cardiac Arrest


What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

The leading cause of death in the United States is heart disease. This should not come as a surprise. The heart beats approximately 2 billion times over an average lifetime and pumps around 100,000 gallons of blood. No other machine works tirelessly and endures as long.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If the heart is not restarted, the person will die. Without warning, the heart ceases to pump blood, causing the person to collapse. It’s similar to a total power outage – it happens quickly and without warning.”

Cardiac, Heart Attack or Heart Failure?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), heart attack, and heart failure are all serious heart conditions, but they have distinct causes, symptoms, and implications for the body.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

SCA happens when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, leading to an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that stops the heart from pumping blood effectively. This can be due to various reasons, including ventricular fibrillation.

Symptoms: SCA often occurs without warning. Symptoms include sudden collapse, loss of consciousness, and absence of pulse. The victim may appear as though they are gasping for air – known as agonal breathing – but in reality, they are not breathing.

Effect: SCA is an immediate, life-threatening emergency that requires rapid medical intervention, typically involving CPR and defibrillation to restore a normal heartbeat.

Heart Attack (Myocardial Infarction)

A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart is blocked, usually by a blood clot, causing damage to the heart muscle due to lack of oxygen.

Symptoms: Symptoms can develop over hours or days and may include chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, nausea, and sweating.

Effect: A heart attack can lead to severe complications and requires urgent medical care, but it does not typically cause the heart to stop beating immediately like SCA.

Heart Failure

Heat Failure occurs when the heart cannot pump blood efficiently enough to meet the body’s needs. This condition can develop due to various reasons, including high blood pressure, heart attacks, or other heart conditions that weaken the heart muscle.

Symptoms: Symptoms include shortness of breath, fatigue, swollen legs, and rapid heartbeat. These symptoms often develop gradually.

Effect: While heart failure is a chronic condition that can be managed with treatment, it typically involves ongoing medical care and lifestyle changes to improve heart function and quality of life.

What causes sudden cardiac arrest?

There are various causes of cardiac arrest in adults. Some of the most common causes are: low oxygen levels, severe electrolyte abnormalities, a blood clot in the lung (pulmonary embolism), a blood clot in the heart (heart attack), certain drugs, or certain irregular heart rhythms.

When a person suffers a sudden cardiac arrest, if they are lucky enough to survive, the doctors caring for them will attempt to figure out why this event occurred and prevent it from happening again.

What are the risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest?

There are many factors that contribute to a person’s risk of sudden cardiac death. In kids, these risk factors are often genetic abnormalities that can increase the risk of developing dangerous heart rhythms that can be fatal. These genetic conditions often run in families, which is why it is so important to know your family history.

In addition to genetic risk factors, some individuals acquire additional risk factors as they age. These can include heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, and high blood pressure to name a few. In addition to certain medical conditions, there are other factors that can increase a person’s risk, such as illegal drug use.

Can you survive sudden cardiac arrest?

Yes, it is possible to survive sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). While survival rates are generally low, with proper preparation and training, we can significantly increase a person’s chances of survival. Fortunately, this preparation does not need to be difficult or expensive.

To survive SCA, the victim needs to receive hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and potentially be defibrillated with an automated external defibrillator (AED). CPR keeps the blood flowing throughout the body, while the AED shocks the heart back into its normal rhythm.

CPR should begin immediately, and the AED should be applied within three minutes. For every minute without these interventions, the chance of survival drops by 10% .

How can you prevent a sudden cardiac arrest?

Preventing a cardiac arrest is a very challenging thing to do. One of the best ways is to identify individuals at risk as early as possible. In order to do this, the Peyton Walker Foundation screens the hearts of thousands of children.

If an individual is identified as having a high-risk condition that could lead to a cardiac arrest, that child is referred to a cardiologist, who will come up with the best treatment plan for preventing a problem before it occurs.

How do you treat a sudden cardiac arrest?

Treating sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) promptly and effectively is crucial for increasing the chances of survival. Here are the steps to take:

Check for a Pulse:

Feel around the neck for a pulse. The carotid artery, which carries blood from the heart to the brain, runs along the side of the neck. If you press over this area with your fingers, you should feel a pulsation if the person is alive .

To practice, feel along one side of your neck until you notice the pulsation. The pulse is almost always in the same location.

Call for Emergency Help:

If the individual does not have a pulse, they have suffered cardiac arrest. Immediately call 911 to get emergency medical help on the way.

Perform CPR:

Start performing hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to keep blood circulating until professional help arrives. CPR is essential to maintain blood flow to vital organs .

Use an AED:

If an automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, use it as soon as possible. Turn on the AED and follow the voice prompts. The device will check the heart rhythm and, if necessary, deliver a shock to help restore a normal rhythm.

Monitor and Continue CPR:

Continue performing CPR until emergency medical services arrive or the person begins to show signs of life, such as breathing or movement.

Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs)

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are among the most effective treatments for cardiac arrest caused by certain dangerous heart rhythms. AEDs are devices that can be attached to the chest of an individual who has suffered cardiac arrest. They function by monitoring the person’s heart rhythm and determining if it is one of the irregular heart rhythms that can be shocked back to normal to save a person’s life .

Unfortunately, not all cardiac arrests can be treated with an AED, but many can. When used appropriately, an AED can be the difference between life and death. AEDs can be located in public areas, including airports, malls, and schools.

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR)

CPR is a crucial skill that every adult should possess. Alongside calling 911 and knowing how to use an AED, being able to perform CPR is one of the most important actions to take to save the life of someone experiencing cardiac arrest. The goal of CPR is to perform chest compressions that help the heart resume pumping blood to the organs of the body. Being trained in the correct way to perform CPR dramatically increases the chance of saving someone’s life .

Here at Peyton Waler Foundation, we teach CPR skills to all age groups. Additionally, you can learn CPR by attending local heart screenings, where
we provide basic CPR training.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillators (ICDs)

For individuals who survive cardiac arrest due to dangerous heart rhythms, there is always a concern that it could happen again. Many survivors may benefit from the surgical implantation of a defibrillator (ICD). ICDs are devices designed to monitor heart rhythms, identify dangerous arrhythmias, and, if necessary, deliver a shock or other therapy to restore a normal rhythm.

There are several types of ICDs available, each tailored to prevent episodes of cardiac arrest by ensuring the heart maintains a stable rhythm.

References: Mayo Clinic, UPMC, Penn State Health, WellSpan, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine, and Red Cross

How can you help by supporting our cause?

There are many ways to support The Peyton Walker Foundation. Whether through donations, volunteering, or facilitating a screening at your local high school, we are always looking for partners and champions to bring attention and action to our cause.

Please Donate Today to Help Our Cause
Click here to access our donation form. We are a non-profit organization dedicated to checking hearts, protecting hearts, and saving lives.

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