What is a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)?

What is a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)?

The heart has an electrical system that controls the pace it beats and the rhythm on the heartbeat, problems with this electrical system can cause an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia’s. There a number of types of arrhythmia which mean the heart can beat too fast, too slow, at an irregular rhythm, with some causing the heart to stop pumping blood altogether - this leads to a SCA.

SCA’s are often confused with a heart attack but both are different. A heart attack happens if blood flow is prevented if part of the heart muscle is blocked and during a heart attack, the heart usually doesn’t stop beating.

Individuals who have heart disease are at a high risk of suffering from a SCA however SCAs can occur in anyone regardless of how healthy they may appear, even if their risk factors are very low and have no history of heart disease.

There are a few factors that can cause a SCA to occur such as heart disease or ventricular defibrillation (arrhythmia) however, a SCA can be brought on due to physical stress such as intense physical activity, very low blood levels of potassium or a severe lack of oxygen. Inherited disorders, when arrhythmia’s run in the family may also be a cause which increases the risk of suffering from a SCA even changes in the structure of the heart such as it’s size can also be a contributing factor. It is important to remember however, that often SCA’s are undetected and as they occur suddenly, prevention can be difficult.

With age, the chances of suffering from a SCA increase, males are more likely to have a SCA than females and some studies show that black people with underlying conditions such as diabetes are at a higher risk.

There are however preventative steps that can be taken if you are concerned that you may one day suffer from a SCA. There are ways to prevent death due to a SCA depending on whether; you have already suffered from a SCA, you have never suffered but are at high risk due to a heart condition or, you have never had a SCA and do not have any risk factors.

If you have previously suffered a SCA you are at risk of having another. Studies show that an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chance of dieing if you suffer a second SCA. They are surgically placed under the skin in your chest or abdomen and shock the heart to restore it to it’s natural rhythm if you have a SCA.

If you have serve ischemic heart disease, you are at risk of suffering from a SCA, to combat this, your doctor may prescribe you with a beta blocker to reduce this risk. For those who have no history of heart disease or relative risk factors it is recommended to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle. This includes aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, physical activity and quitting smoking if you do so.

To determine whether someone is suffering from a SCA, a victim will fall unconscious and no heartbeat can be felt. Within an hour before suffering a SCA, some people have chest pain, a shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting.

When someone does fall ill due to a SCA it is paramount that you act quickly as time is of the essence. Call the emergency services and then begin administering emergency care straight away by giving CPR and using a defibrillator. Defibrillators work to shock the heart so that it can return to it’s normal rhythm. They are designed to be used by anyone so regardless of whether there is a medical professional present or untrained layperson, a defibrillator can be used and can save a life. Following successful defibrillation, a victim can be treat in hospital for ongoing care and treatment which may include medicines to reduce the risk of suffering from another SCA.

6th Aug 2019 Christopher Maltby CW

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