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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Facts
Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in thee USA and the world. Ovewr 350,000 men, women, and children of all ages die of this condition every yeear in the USA alone.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest

(Source: Mayo Clinic)

Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. Sudden cardiac arrest usually results from an electrical disturbance in your heart that disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the rest of your body.

The immediate cause of sudden cardiac arrest is usually an abnormality in your heart rhythm (arrhythmia), the result of a problem with your heart's electrical system. Unlike other muscles in your body, which rely on nerve connections to receive the electrical stimulation they need to function, your heart has its own electrical stimulator — a specialized group of cells called the sinus node located in the upper right chamber (right atrium) of your heart. The sinus node generates electrical impulses that flow in an orderly manner through your heart to synchronize the heart rate and coordinate the pumping of blood from your heart to the rest of your body.

If something goes wrong with the sinus node or the flow of electric impulses through your heart, an arrhythmia can result, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or in an irregular fashion. The most common cause of cardiac arrest is an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation — when rapid, erratic electrical impulses cause your ventricles to quiver uselessly instead of pumping blood.

When sudden cardiac arrest occurs, your brain is the first part of your body to suffer because, unlike other organs, it doesn't have a reserve of oxygen-rich blood. It's completely dependent on an uninterrupted supply of blood. Reduced blood flow to your brain causes unconsciousness. If your heart rhythm doesn't rapidly return to its normal rhythm, brain damage occurs and death results. If sudden cardiac arrest lasts more than 8 minutes, survival is rare. Survivors of cardiac arrest may show signs of brain damage.

Heart Attack

Sudden cardiac arrest is very different from a heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to a portion of the heart muscle is blocked and that section of muscle dies, an outcome called an infarction. An infarction can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest. Among the differences between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack is that the latter is associated with symptoms that appear well in advance such as chest pain, fatigue, nausea, heart burn, and other discomfort. The victim has time to be transported to an emergency room for treatment. In cases of sudden cardiac arrest, there is rarely any warning; the first symptom is most likely loss of consciousness and a cessation of breathing. Treatment must occur immediately and must eventually include the use of an automatic external defibrillator (AED).

Time is Critical

When sudden cardiac arrest occurs, action to restore heart function and the circulation of oxygenated blood to the brain is required immediately. Every minute that cardiac arrest persists, the chances of a successful resuscitation decrease by 10% per minute. In a typical EMS response scenario, paramedics arrive at the location of the emergency on average, eight minutes after the event, and treatment is finally administered after 11.5 minutes.

Unless a good Samaritan bystander has witnessed the event and begun CPR and an AED has been retrieved and used before the arrival of paramedics, the victim stands little chance of survival and will likely suffer significant brain damage if they do survive.

Successful Resuscitation

A victim’s chances of a successful resuscitation are directly related to where sudden cardiac arrest occurs.

Unfortunately, eighty percent of these cases occur out of hospital in residential areas. Ninety percent of these victims die. The reason is a lack of timely treatment. Many neighborhoods are located more than three miles from the nearest fire station or other EMS location. Successful resuscitations in these areas are characterized by the timely intervention of a bystander who is willing to act. These good Samaritans have knowledge of CPR and the use of an AED.

Compression only CPR simulates a minimal circulation of the blood in the victim’s body which contains a limited residual supply of oxygen. This action provides the brain with a few minutes of oxygen and can improve the chances for a successful resuscitation. CPR can be beneficial but will not restart the heart. Only the use of an AED to administer a shock to the fibrillating heart before the oxygen supply to the brain is exhausted can restore normal heart function and bring the victim back from the brink of death. EMS teams can then stabilize the victim and transport them to an emergency facility that can treat the underlying cause of the event.