As the name suggests, SCA refers to medical condition when the heart stops functioning suddenly. This leads to loss of consciousness or fainting. If there is no immediate treatment given with defibrillation, an electric shock to heart, it damages the brain and leads to death of the person. SCA is an electrical problem caused by arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) that prevents the heart from pumping blood to the brain and other vital organs.
To understand the prevention and management of SCA, it important to understand how it is different from other heart diseases, what are the factors that leads to SCA and how one can treat or prevent SCA.
Difference between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack
The two are commonly used interchangeably by a layman, but they are not the same. Heart attack is due to the blocked arteries that hamper the blood flow to the heart, while SCA is when a person’s heart stops beating. Heart attack is related to the blood supply of Heart, while SCA is related to the malfunctioning of the electrical system.
Risk Factors of SCA
Most heart diseases can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. History of a heart attack is one of the major reasons for SCA. A person is more prone to SCA after first six months of a heart attack. Similarly, patient with heart failure is more likely to experience SCA.
Apart from patient’s medical history, other common risk factors include – family history of coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, sedentary lifestyle, smoking, excessive alcohol intake and age.
Symptoms of SCA
The first and only symptom of SCA is loss of consciousness. People faint when there is reduced blood supply to the brain. In case of SCA, there are no warning signs before SCA. However, there might be some common symptoms like weakness, shortness of breath, fainting, chest pain or heart palpitation that may be seen before a SCA.
Treatment for SCA
People who have SCA die from it within a few minutes. Immediate treatment options like cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and a defibrillator (a device that is used for an electric shock to the heart) can be lifesaving. Also, there are two types of defibrillators:
An external defibrillator (AED) which is a small device that uses electrode pads to detect and diagnose abnormal heart beats and can be used in giving electric shock if needed. AED is found in public places like hotels, airports, schools, and malls. Most cardiac arrests are fatal, and AED is just a temporary solution for people without medical assistance. However, prompt treatments can increase the chances of survival. For SCA, treatment is most effective within a few minutes of showing symptoms.
Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is a surgically implanted device that helps in sensing irregular or dangerous heartbeats and deliver life-saving shocks to help return the heart rhythm to normal. An ICD would be recommended to a patient if they show signs or symptoms of certain abnormal heartbeats called ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia, including fainting. It is also advised to patients who have survived a cardiac arrest.
While there are treatment options available for SCA, prevention is better than cure. People with higher risks should maintain a healthy lifestyle which should include regular exercise, avoiding stress, eating less oily food, quit smoking, keeping blood pressure and sugar levels in control.
(Disclaimer – This article is for educational purposes only. Kindly consult your doctor in case you are experiencing any symptoms)
(Dr Naresh Kumar Goyal is a Senior Director & Incharge - Heart Failure Programme, Cardiology Department at BLK-Max Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi)