You must have heard about otherwise healthy people who passed away after a sudden collapse. Such events often leave you perplexed. It is hard to accept the fact that someone who was hale and hearty a few hours ago is no more now! Blame it on the sudden cardiac arrest.

What is a Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

When the heart suddenly, unexpectedly and abruptly stops functioning, it is labelled as a ‘sudden cardiac arrest’. An electrical disturbance in the heart interrupts the pumping of blood, ceasing the flow of blood to the rest of the body. If not treated immediately, it usually causes death within minutes.

An important point worth remembering here is that a heart attack is different from sudden cardiac arrest. In the former, the heart muscle dies and people may feel chest pain or breathless or profuse sweating, whereas the latter is due to cessation of an electrical activity in the heart with no prior signs or very brief alert symptoms.

Causes of sudden cardiac arrest

  • Coronary heart disease - It is a major risk factor. It occurs because the arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the muscles of heart are blocked by waxy plaques. Eventually, heart muscles die because of this blockage due to lack of adequate blood supply. This is called a heart attack. The dead muscles are replaced by a scar tissue that hampers the electrical activity of heart leading to arrhythmias and sudden cardiac arrest.
  • Arrhythmia – It is an irregular electrical activity in the heart. This may be inherited.
  • Intense physical activity - Rush of hormone adrenaline during rigorous exercise triggers sudden cardiac arrest in people with heart diseases.
  • Major blood loss or lack of oxygen supply.
  • Low levels of minerals, like potassium and magnesium, in blood precipitates sudden cardiac arrest.

What to do!

No blood supply to the brain causes fainting or collapsing as there is no heart beat or pulse as well. At times, minutes before fainting, some people feel dizzy or experience light headedness. This can be accompanied with chest pain, nausea, vomiting or shortness of breath within an hour before cardiac arrest.

In such a scenario rush for help as there is not much time in hand. The most important thing you can do in this scenario is to SHOUT FOR HELP. As nobody can help the victim alone! As people gather, one should immediately arrange for urgent medical help. Others should make the victim lie in a flat position on the ground or any other firm surface with due care not to traumatise the victim. If you or someone around you knows to resuscitate the person by using a method called cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), then start it immediately. But always remember, earlier the victims gets medical help, the lesser losses he suffers!

If possible, attach an AED (Automated external defibrillators - defibrillator machine) available in a nearby shopping mall, airport, sports venue or school to the victim. If the victim is treatable with the machine, then the machine defibrillates the victim automatically. This makes his heart to start pumping blood again. 

As early as possible, rush the person to a nearby hospital’s emergency department. Once you are there, let the experts handle the case.

If one survives a sudden cardiac arrest, series of investigations are performed to find the cause. For this, electrocardiogram (ECG), 2D ECHO, angiography and various other blood tests are conducted on the patient and the cause is treated.