Each year, sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—an abrupt loss of heart function caused by a rapid disturbance in the heart’s natural rhythm—claims the lives of more than 5,768 Iowans, or approximately 16 lives per day.
Are you at risk?
SCA is not a random event. Although it may occur in outwardly healthy people, most victims have heart disease or other health problems, often without being aware of it.
As many as 75 percent of people who die of SCA show signs of a previous heart attack, while eighty percent have signs of coronary artery disease.
- Previous episode of SCA
- Previous heart attack or heart failure (75 percent of the people who die of SCA show signs of a previous heart attack)
- Ejection fraction (EF) or the the percentage of blood that is pumped out of a filled ventricle during each beat (ejection)
- Typical EF ranges are:
50-75 percent - heart’s pumping ability is NORMAL
36-49 percent - heart’s pumping ability is BELOW NORMAL
35 percent and below - heart’s pumping ability is LOW
- Family history of SCA
Signs and symptoms:
A number of symptoms and signs may indicate that a person is at increased risk for SCA. These include:
- An abnormal heart rate or rhythm (arrhythmia) of unknown cause
- An unusually rapid heart rate (tachycardia) that comes and goes, even when the person is at rest
- Episodes of fainting of unknown cause
- A low ejection fraction (EF): The ejection fraction is a measurement of how much blood is pumped by the ventricles with each heart beat. A healthy heart pumps 55 percent or more of its blood with each beat. People at highest risk for SCA have ejection fractions of less than 40 percent, combined with ventricular tachycardia, an abnormally fast heart rate in the lower chambers of the heart.
Reduce the risk of a "power outage" in your heart; commit to a healthy lifestyle today.
- If you smoke, quit
- Eat a heart-healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Lose weight if you are overweight or obese
- Take your medications as ordered by your doctor
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
When someone collapses from SCA, immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use of an automated external
defibrillator (AED) are essential for any chance of recovery. The AED analyzes the heart rhythm of the victim, and if necessary, a
computerized command will instruct the user to press a button to deliver an appropriate shock to restore the normal operation of the heart. These devices are failsafe and will not cause injury to the user, nor will they deliver a shock if none is needed. Defibrillation is the only definitive treatment for SCA, and survival decreases 7-10 percent for every minute without it.
The underlying medical conditions that contribute to SCA can be controlled through medical therapy. The most common classes of these drugs include beta blockers, ACE inhibitors and statins.
Interventional procedures – a backup system for your heart
If lifestyle changes and medical therapies do not significantly reduce your risk for SCA, interventional treatment options—including an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) or pacemakers—may be considered.
Using this technique, radiofrequency energy (heat), cryotherapy (freezing), or other energy forms are used to destroy small areas of heart muscle that give rise to the abnormal electrical signals that cause rapid or irregular heart rhythms. Catheter ablation is sometimes done in patients who have an ICD to decrease the frequency of abnormal heart rhythms, and again, to reduce how often the device fires.
During a meeting at work in May 2004, Mary deeply exhaled, over-gripped her pen and then her head hit the table. She had suffered Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Two co-workers immediately called 911. One of her co-workers went to get another co-worker who is also a nurse and they started CPR. Meanwhile, another co-worker ran down to the 2nd floor to get the AED. The organization’s AED team heard the alarm as the AED was pulled off the wall and ran with her back to the 3rd floor.
Mary was revived with two shocks from the AED, within three to four minutes of her arrest. West Des Moines EMS arrived within four minutes and took over her care. They then transported Mary to Mercy Medical Center—Des Moines where it was determined that she was a candidate for an implantable defibrillator.
John is 38 in real life, but just six in his new life as an SCA survivor. He was born in Barberton, OH in 1967 with a congenital heart defect called Tetrology of Falot. It is a condition where four parts of the heart are affected and is treated with open heart surgery. At the age of three months, he had a Blalock Shunt and his first open heart surgery at four.
Growing up was a little bit of a challenge for John because he couldn't keep up with the other kids and he couldn't play contact sports; however, his parents pretty much let him live his life without restrictions.
At the age of 23 while working out at the gym, John felt his heart racing. After much debate, he went to Mercy Medical Center — Des Moines. To his surprise, his nurse issued a code blue while he was sitting up and talking to her. His heart was beating at 260 beats per minute and he had sustained this for several hours before arriving at Mercy.