Sudden Cardiac Arrest (Sudden Cardiac Death)

  • Medical Author:
    Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM

    Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

  • Medical Editor: Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI
    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Daniel Lee Kulick, MD, FACC, FSCAI

    Dr. Kulick received his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Southern California, School of Medicine. He performed his residency in internal medicine at the Harbor-University of California Los Angeles Medical Center and a fellowship in the section of cardiology at the Los Angeles County-University of Southern California Medical Center. He is board certified in Internal Medicine and Cardiology.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Quiz: Sudden Cardiac Arrest!

Can sudden cardiac arrest be prevented?

Death is best treated by prevention. Most sudden death is associated with heart disease, so the at-risk population remains males older than 40 years of age who smoke, have high blood pressure, and diabetes (the risk factors for heart attack). Other risks include syncope (fainting or loss of consciousness) and known heart disease.

Syncope, or loss of consciousness, is a significant risk factor for sudden death. While some reasons for passing out are benign, there is always a concern that the reason was an abnormal heart rhythm that subsequently spontaneously corrected. The fear is that the next episode will be a sudden cardiac arrest. Depending on the healthcare provider's suspicion based on the patient's history, physical examination, laboratory tests, and EKG, the healthcare practitioner may recommend inpatient or outpatient heart monitoring to try to find a clue as to whether the passing out was due to a deadly heart rhythm. Unfortunately, the potentially suspect rhythm may not recur and depending on the situation, prolonged outpatient monitoring lasting weeks and months may be necessary. Use of electrophysiologic testing may help identify high risk patients (the electrical pathways are mapped using techniques similar to heart catheterization).

In people with symptoms of chest pain, aside from making the diagnosis, monitoring both the heart rate and rhythm are emphasized. The purpose of watching people with chest pain in a hospital setting is to prevent sudden cardiac arrest.

Using implantable defibrillators in high risk patients, especially those with markedly decreased ejection fractions can reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest. These devices are placed under the skin in the chest wall and have wires that are attached to the heart itself. When they detect ventricular fibrillation, a shock is automatically delivered to the heart, restoring a heart beat and averting sudden death.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/8/2015
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