October is upon us, and with it comes many opportunities to learn about specific health conditions and raise awareness for their observances. This includes a vital one to heart health: Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. Sudden cardiac arrest is the third leading cause of death in the United States. Almost 356,000 people “experience EMS-assessed out-of-hospital non-traumatic SCA each year and 9 out of 10 victims die.” Initiatives fighting this fatal condition are helping to explore steps we can all take to lower our risk and improve our overall heart health.
Sudden cardiac arrest does not discriminate: infants, children, teens, adults and the elderly are all at risk. Let’s examine more about this health condition and how we can raise awareness about life-saving prevention tips this month:
Know the difference
When someone experiences sudden cardiac arrest, it means the heart stops beating suddenly. But there is a difference between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack. More than 65% of Americans believe sudden cardiac arrest is a type of heart attack and underestimate the seriousness of the condition. This is alarming considering the number of Americans who die every year from the condition. Understanding the difference between the two conditions is crucial to knowing how to prevent the symptoms and how to provide help.
Sudden cardiac arrest: We have an internal electrical system that controls the heart’s rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. When we experience problems with the heart’s electrical system, we can experience irregular heartbeats called 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 sudden cardiac arrest.” It occurs without warning or symptoms. It claims 1 life every 2 minutes, “taking more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS.”
Heart attack: When someone has a heart attack, “the heart usually doesn’t suddenly stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.” Heart attack symptoms can be intense and fast. Usually, symptoms can start days, weeks, or hours before the actual heart attack.
Response time is everything
The time it takes for someone who experiences sudden cardiac arrest to receive treatment is critical to survival. Even 4-6 minutes can save a life, as 95% of those who experience it fall victim to the condition without receiving life-saving defibrillation within that time.
Assess your risk
- Previous heart attack
- Personal history of heart disease
- Personal history of arrythmia
- Personal or family history of inherited disorders that make you prone to arrythmia
- Personal or family history of heart failure, heart disease, sudden death
- Congenital heart defect
- Low ejection fraction (EF) – This is the measurement of how much blood is pumped by the ventricles with each heartbeat. A healthy heart should pump 55% or more of its blood with each heartbeat. Less than 35% indicates an elevated risk.
It’s also important to be aware that many people who have had experienced sudden cardiac arrest did not have any prior indication of heart disease. It happens suddenly and without warning, so signs and symptoms are not often present.
Take steps to prevent it
While there are no signs or symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, you can reduce the likelihood of experiencing it by doing a few things that will put you ahead of the curve.