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Understanding Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Published: April 20, 2010

Seven in ten Americans underestimate the seriousness of sudden cardiac arrest or SCA, and mistakenly believe it is a type of heart attack, according to a recent survey by The Heart Rhythm Society (HRS).

Here are 5 facts from the ongoing HRS Apples and Oranges campaign to help you understand the difference between the two heart emergencies—and why it matters:

1. SCA is a malfunction of the heart’s “wiring” or electrical system that controls your heartbeat. Heart attacks result from bad “plumbing”, or problems within the blood vessels that carry oxygen to the heart muscle.

2. SCA immediately and completely halts blood flow throughout the body, starving the entire body of oxygen. Heart attacks (also called myocardial infarctions or MIs) reduce or block circulation to a particular area of the heart muscle.

3. SCA occurs without warning and is often the first indication of unsuspected heart rhythm problems. Loss of consciousness occurs within 20 seconds. Heart attacks are usually (but not always) preceded by chest discomfort or trouble breathing and happen to people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or a personal or family history of heart disease. Heart attacks can trigger the deadly heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation that causes SCA.

4. SCA has a cure. It is to “shock” the heart back to normal rhythm with a machine called a defibrillator. But the window of opportunity is short—chances of survival decrease about 10 percent for each minute spent waiting for a defibrillator. Fortunately, many therapies exist for heart attacks and getting prompt emergency treatment can avoid or reduce heart muscle damage when symptoms are recognized early.

5. SCA occurs almost 1,200 times per day in the U.S. Heart attacks claim the lives of about 600 Americans daily, including 300 who die before reaching the hospital. Most of those deaths are from SCA.

Click here for more on SCA from The Heart Rhythm Society.

Watch for more about preventing SCA and saving lives in future weeks.

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