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What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart unexpectedly and abruptly stops beating. It occurs when the heart's electrical system malfunctions, causing the heart to beat irregularly and dangerously fast. The primary concern being that blood will stop flowing to the brain and can cause death if treatment isn't begun immediately.

The specialists at The Heart Hospital Baylor provide innovative diagnostic and treatment services to assess and evaluate SCA.

Overview

To understand SCA, it helps to understand how the heart works. The heart has an electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. Problems with the heart's electrical system can cause irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias.

There are many types of arrhythmias. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Some arrhythmias can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body — these arrhythmias cause SCA.

SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn't suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.

People who have heart disease are at higher risk for SCA. However, SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors for SCA.

Outlook

Most people who have SCA die from it — often within minutes. Rapid treatment of SCA with a defibrillator can be lifesaving. A defibrillator is a device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm.

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be used by bystanders to save the lives of people who are having SCA. These portable devices often are found in public places, such as shopping malls, golf courses, businesses, airports, airplanes, casinos, convention centers, hotels, sports venues, and schools.

Who is at Risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

The risk of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) increases:

  • With age
  • If you are a man. Men are more likely than women to have SCA.
  • Some studies show that African Americans - particularly those with underlying conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure​, and chronic kidney disease or certain cardiac findings on tests such as an electrocardiogram - have a higher risk for SCA.

Major Risk Factors

The major risk factor for SCA is coronary heart disease. Most people who have SCA have some degree of coronary heart disease; however, many people may not know that they have coronary heart disease until SCA occurs. Usually their coronary heart disease is “silent” — that is, it has no signs or symptoms. Because of this, doctors and nurses have not detected it.

Many people who have SCA also have silent, or undiagnosed, heart attacks before sudden cardiac arrest happens. These people have no clear signs of heart attack, and they don’t even realize that they’ve had one. Read more about coronary heart disease risk factors »

Other Risk Factors

Other risk factors for SCA include:

  • A personal history of arrhythmias
  • A personal or family history of SCA or inherited disorders that make you prone to arrhythmias
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; National Institutes of Health; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Why The Heart Hospital Baylor

Reacting quickly and with compassion, the physicians and staff at The Heart Hospital Baylor provide guests with appropriate emergency cardiac treatment. The emergency cardiac department at The Heart Hospital Baylor Plano is a 24-hour, 7-days-a-week, accredited chest pain center with board-certified emergency room physicians and cardiologists on the medical staff, and specially trained nurses.​​

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