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Everything you need to about sudden cardiac arrest—including first aid

Published on:6 March 2021, 15:17pm IST
A sudden cardiac arrest can be fatal if immediate action is not taken within the first 6 minutes. Here’s what you need to know about this condition.
Dr Vanita Arora
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sudden cardiac arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest can be reversible if first aid is at hand. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

Sudden cardiac arrest happens without a warning, bringing the heart to a standstill. It occurs because of erratic heart beats triggered by an electrical malfunction which stops the heart from pumping blood to the body.

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) leads to sudden death if not intervened within the first 6 minutes. The human heart beats at 60-100 beats per minute and any fluctuation in this rate, either too slow or too fast is referred to as cardiac arrhythmia. Therefore, those experiencing a sudden increase in heart rate or those who are genetically prone to heart diseases can experience a fatal arrhythmia.

What are the signs of a sudden cardiac arrest
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Collapse
  • No pulse
  • No breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
sudden cardiac arrest
This diet plan can help you fight against heart disease. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Here’s what you must do immediately when someone suffers from sudden cardiac arrest

The first 6 minutes of sudden cardiac arrest are the most important. If cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is started within the first six minutes of the incident, the chances of survival increases to more than twice, in the absence of which the patient may not survive. CPR involves putting the hands on the chest of the affected person and pumping it as if the heart is pumping the blood to the brain. Survival is possible with fast, appropriate medical care.

What is the difference between sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack?

Heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest are the most common types of cardiovascular diseases and most people are unable to differentiate between the two conditions. A heart attack occurs when the blood vessels that are supplying oxygen to the heart are blocked resulting in chest pain. A sudden cardiac arrest, on the other hand, happens when erratic heartbeats stop the heart, leading to sudden death.

A heart attack is a ‘circulation’ problem while a sudden cardiac arrest is an ‘electrical’ problem. More than 95% patients do not survive from sudden cardiac arrest. The patient must meet their cardiac electrophysiologist, and a risk stratification is done to identify if the patient is at risk of sudden cardiac arrest and needs device intervention.

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What are the treatment options for sudden cardiac arrest

Usually the treatment for SCA involves either of the two treatments:

ICDs (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator): 
This is a small machine like a pacemaker that can help manage and correct arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. The device also helps in constant monitoring of the heart rhythm and on detecting any abnormality, sends a powerful shock to the heart muscle to restore normal rhythm. An ICD can be used by patients who have survived sudden cardiac arrest and who are at risk of SCA and need their heart rhythms constantly monitored.

Interventional surgeries: This works best for patients with coronary heart disease and involves procedures such as an angioplasty (repairing the blood vessels) or bypass surgery for improving the flow of blood to the heart muscle. For patients with cardiomyopathy or congenital heart disease also, an interventional procedure may be required.

Those suffering from arrhythmia can undergo procedures such as catheter ablation and electrical cardioversion and Device implantation.

Risk of sudden cardiac arrest can be reduced by getting regular check-ups, being screened for heart diseases, and living a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Dr Vanita Arora Dr Vanita Arora

Dr Vanita Arora, Director & Head Cardiac Electrophysiologist, Max Hospital, Saket, New Delhi