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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Risks and Warnings

Following the death of Tim Russert, host of Meet the Press, there has been much attention on the otherwise relatively quiet sudden cardiac arrest. The Chester County Hospital has compiled some general, consumer friendly information for you to be better aware of the risks and warning signs of sudden cardiac arrest.

What is sudden cardiac death?
Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. It kills more than 325,000 people each year. That is more than the total death rate for breast cancer, lung cancer and HIV/Aids combined.

During sudden cardiac arrest, heart function ceases abruptly, without warning. The heart is no longer able to pump blood to the rest of the body. This, in many cases is caused by rapid or chaotic electrical impulses in the heart. These are called arrhythmias. In most cases there are no warning signs or symptoms.

Risks for sudden cardiac arrest?

  • History of early heart disease, heart attack or a cardiac death in the family.
  • Unexplained fainting, near fainting or heart palpitations.
  • Chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting with exertion.
  • Heart failure or heart attack.
  • Weak heart muscle
  • Cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking or high cholesterol.

Can you be resuscitated after a sudden cardiac arrest?
Immediate Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) are essential for any chance of recovery. As many as 30-50% of victims would likely survive if CPR and AED were administered within the first five minutes after a collapse.

The American Heart Association classifies sudden death from cardiac arrest as a major health problem that has received much less publicity than heart attack. It supports implementing a "chain of survival" to help rescue people who suffer a cardiac arrest in the community.

The adult chain consists of:

  • Early Recognition of the Emergency and Activation of Emergency Response System (phone 9-1-1 immediately)
  • Early CPR
  • Early Defibrillation (AED)
  • Early Advanced Care

Can the cardiac arrest be treated?
Many patients that have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest or are at risk have surgery to implant a small device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). These are used to recognize certain types of arrhythmias and correct them with an electric pulse. ICDs treat 95% of lethal ventricular arrhythmias effectively.

Last Updated: 1/5/2010