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Sudden Cardiac Death

Dr. Viveka Kumar

What is sudden cardiac death (SCD)?

Sudden cardiac death is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and conscious due to a cardiac cause occurring within 1 hour of onset of symptoms. Sudden cardiac death usually results from an electrical disturbance in the heart that interferes with its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the rest of the body.  It usually causes death if it’s not treated within minutes.

Is this similar to heart attack?

Sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. Heart attack happens when blood flow to a portion of the heart is blocked because of clot formation inside the blood vessels of heart. However, a heart attack can sometimes trigger an electrical disturbance that leads to sudden cardiac arrest. During a heart attack, some heart muscle cells die and are replaced with scar tissue. The scar tissue damages the heart’s electrical system. As a result, electrical signals may spread abnormally throughout the heart. These changes to the heart increase the risk of dangerous arrhythmias and SCD. The chances of having SCD are higher during the first 6 months after a heart attack.

What to do?

Sudden cardiac death is a medical emergency. If not treated immediately, it causes sudden cardiac death. With fast, appropriate medical care, survival is possible. Rapid treatment with a defibrillator and cardiopulmonary resuscitation — or even just compressions to the chest administration can be lifesaving. A defibrillator is a device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm.

Who Is at Risk for Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

The risk of sudden cardiac death increases with age. The risk also is higher if someone has underlying heart disease. Men are two to three times more likely to have SCD than women.

The major risk factor for SCD is coronary heart disease (CAD). This is especially true if somebody recently had a heart attack. However, people may not know that they have coronary artery disease until SCD occurs. Their CAD is “silent”—that is, it has no signs or symptoms. Some people can have heart attack without any signs, and they don’t even realize that they’ve had one. Other risk factors for SCD include: A personal or family history of SCD or inherited disorders that make you prone to arrhythmias, a personal history of arrhythmias, heart attack, heart failure and drug and alcohol abuse.

How Can Death Due to Sudden Cardiac Arrest Be Prevented?

Following a healthy lifestyle can help to lower the risk for CAD, SCD, and other heart problems. Other treatments for CAD, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, also may lower the risk for SCD.

Doctor may recommend an ICD if somebody are at high risk for SCD. An ICD is a device similar to pacemaker surgically placed under the skin in chest. The device has wires with electrodes on the ends that connect to heart’s chambers. If the ICD detects a dangerous heart rhythm, it gives an electric shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.

Is the Senior Director of  Cath Lab and a Senior Consultant of Interventional Cardiology & Electrophysiology at Max Super Specialty Hospital, Saket, New Delhi.

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