Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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Imagine you are having a typical day at work when suddenly you see your colleague collapse on the floor. He is not breathing, and you cannot feel his pulse. You realize he is having a sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), and you must act fast to save his life.
What is sudden cardiac arrest, and how is it different from a heart attack? How can you recognize the early signs and seek prompt medical attention? How can you prevent sudden cardiac arrest from happening to you or your loved ones?
In this blog post, we will answer these questions and more. We will explain what SCA is, what causes it, what symptoms to look out for, and what treatment options are available. We will also provide some tips on reducing the risk of sudden cardiac arrest by adopting a healthy lifestyle.

Symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

SCA is a sudden and unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness. It occurs when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and causes the heart to stop beating normally. This prevents blood from flowing to the brain and other vital organs, resulting in death within minutes if not treated immediately.

The most common symptom of sudden cardiac arrest is loss of consciousness. The person may collapse, become unresponsive, or stop breathing. Other symptoms may include:

  • No pulse or weak pulse
  • Gasping or snorting
  • Seizures or convulsions
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sweating or cold skin

However, SCA can also occur without any warning signs or symptoms. Nearly half of the people who experience sudden cardiac arrest have no prior symptoms. This makes sudden cardiac arrest unpredictable and dangerous.

Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone, at any time, and in any place. It can happen while sleeping, working, exercising, or driving. It can happen to people who are young or old, healthy or sick, male or female. It can happen to people who have no known heart problems, as well as those who have a history of heart disease.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Symptoms

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 7.9 million people die from cardiovascular diseases yearly, accounting for 3 % of all global deaths. In Dubai alone, cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death, accounting for 30% of all deaths in 2019.

That is why it is crucial to be aware of the early symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest and act fast to save lives.

Causes and Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

The immediate cause of sudden cardiac arrest is usually an abnormal heart rhythm called arrhythmia. Arrhythmia is when the heart beats too fast, slow, or irregularly. The most common type of arrhythmia that leads to SCA is ventricular fibrillation (VF). VF is a chaotic and rapid quivering of the lower chambers of the heart (ventricles) that prevents them from pumping blood effectively.

Many factors can increase the risk of developing arrhythmias and SCA. Some of these factors are:

  • Heart attack: A heart attack occurs when a blood clot blocks a coronary artery (a blood vessel that supplies blood to the heart muscle). This reduces or stops the blood flow to a part of the heart muscle, causing damage or death of the tissue. A heart attack can trigger VF or damage the heart’s electrical system, making it more prone to arrhythmias.
  • Cardiomyopathy: Cardiomyopathy is a heart muscle disease that makes it weak, enlarged, or stiff. This affects the ability of the heart to pump blood normally and may cause arrhythmias.
  • Congenital heart disease: Congenital heart disease is a defect in the structure or function of the heart that is present at birth. Some congenital heart diseases can affect the heart’s electrical system or cause abnormal blood flow that may lead to arrhythmias.
  • Coronary artery disease: Coronary artery disease is a condition where plaque (a fatty substance) builds up in the walls of the coronary arteries, narrowing them and reducing blood flow to the heart muscle. This can cause angina (chest pain or discomfort), heart attack, or arrhythmias.
  • Other heart conditions: Other heart conditions that can increase the risk of sudden cardiac arrest include valvular heart disease, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome, and Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome.

Besides these heart-related factors, some other factors can trigger or worsen SCA. These include:

  • Physical exertion: Physical exertion can increase the demand for oxygen and blood flow to the heart, which may trigger arrhythmias in people who have underlying heart problems or are not used to exercise.
  • Emotional stress: Emotional stress can cause hormonal changes, blood pressure changes, and heart rate changes that may affect the electrical activity of the heart and cause arrhythmias.
  • Drug abuse: Drug abuse can damage the heart muscle, affect the heart’s electrical system, or cause electrolyte imbalance that may lead to arrhythmias. Some drugs that can cause sudden cardiac arrest include cocaine, methamphetamine, heroin, and ecstasy.
  • Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolyte imbalance is a condition where the levels of minerals (such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium) in the blood are too high or too low. These minerals are essential for the normal functioning of the cells, especially the nerve and muscle cells. Electrolyte imbalance can affect the electrical activity of the heart and cause arrhythmias.

Treatment and Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency that requires immediate action. The only effective treatment for sudden cardiac arrest is electrotherapy (defibrillation). Defibrillation is when an electric shock is delivered to the chest through paddles or pads attached to a defibrillator. The shock can restore normal heart rhythm and blood flow.

However, defibrillation must be done as soon as possible after SCA occurs. For every minute without defibrillation, the chance of survival decreases by 7% to 0%. If defibrillation is delayed for more than 10 minutes, the chance of survival is less than 5%.

That is why it is vital to know how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and use an automated external defibrillator (AED) if available. CPR is a technique that involves chest compressions and rescue breaths to keep blood and oxygen flowing to the brain and other vital organs until defibrillation or professional medical care arrives. AED is a portable device that can analyze the heart rhythm and deliver a shock if needed.

Here are the steps to perform CPR and use AED if you witness someone having SCA:

  • Call for help: Call 999 or ask someone else to call for emergency medical services. If you are alone, contact them before starting CPR.
  • Check for responsiveness: Tap the person’s shoulder and ask loudly if they are OK. If they do not respond, they will likely be in cardiac arrest.
  • Start CPR: Place one hand on top of the other in the center of the chest. Push hard and fast at 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Allow the chest to recoil fully between each compression. If trained and willing, give two rescue breaths after every 30 compressions. Tilt the head back, lift the chin, pinch the nose shut, and blow into the mouth until you see the chest rise.
  • Use AED: If an AED is available, turn it on and follow the voice prompts. Attach the pads to the person’s bare chest, as shown on the diagram. Ensure no one touches the person when the AED analyzes the heart rhythm or delivers a shock.
  • Continue until help arrives: Keep CPR and use AED until paramedics arrive or the person shows signs of life, such as breathing, coughing, or moving.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest Causes

If you survive sudden cardiac arrest episode, seek professional medical care to diagnose the cause and prevent recurrence. Depending on your condition, your doctor may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:

  • Medication: Medication can help control your heart rate, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, or blood clotting. Some examples of medicine used for sudden cardiac arrest include beta-blockers, calcium channel blockers, antiarrhythmics, anticoagulants, and statins.
  • Radiofrequency catheter ablation: Radiofrequency catheter ablation is a procedure where a thin tube (catheter) is inserted into a blood vessel and guided to your heart. The catheter delivers radiofrequency energy to destroy small areas of tissue that cause arrhythmias.
  • Coronary angioplasty: Coronary angioplasty is a procedure where a balloon-tipped catheter is inserted into a blocked coronary artery and inflated to widen it. This improves blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Coronary artery bypass graft: A coronary artery bypass graft is a surgery where a healthy blood vessel from another part of the body bypasses a blocked coronary artery and improves blood flow to the heart muscle.
  • Implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD): ICD is a small device implanted under the skin near the collarbone. It monitors the heart rhythm and delivers a shock if it detects a life-threatening arrhythmia.

Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Besides these treatment options, you may also need to make some lifestyle changes to prevent SCA from happening again. These include:

1.Eating A Balanced Diet:

can help lower cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and arrhythmias. Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, trans fat, salt, and sugar.

2. Staying Physically Active:

Physical activity can help strengthen your heart muscle, improve blood circulation, lower blood pressure, and maintain a healthy weight. It can also reduce stress and improve your mood. Aim for at least 50 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise per week, such as brisk walking, cycling, or swimming. Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program.

3. Not Smoking:

Smoking can damage your blood vessels, increase your blood pressure, and reduce the oxygen supply to your heart. It can also trigger arrhythmias and increase the risk of heart attack and stroke. Quitting smoking can improve your heart health and lower your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. If you need help leaving, talk to your doctor about nicotine replacement therapy or other options.

4. Avoiding Excessive Alcohol Consumption:

Alcohol can affect your heart rhythm and blood pressure. It can also interfere with some medications you may take for SCA. Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Limit your alcohol intake to one drink per day for women and two for men.

5. Managing Diabetes:

Diabetes can damage your blood vessels and nerves, affecting your heart function and increasing your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar levels by following your doctor’s advice on medication, diet, and exercise.


Sudden cardiac arrest is a severe and life-threatening condition when the heart stops beating due to an electrical problem. It can cause death within minutes if not treated immediately. You can consult a doctor on call if you experience any symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting. Aims Healthcare offers home healthcare services that provide timely and personalized care in the comfort of your home.
Aims Healthcare is a leading provider of patient-centered care that supports clinical independence and aligns quality, connectivity, and value. Their expertise and experience in treating sudden cardiac arrest and other cardiac conditions can benefit you.

If you have any questions call us at +971 505 136 505 we would love to hear from you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Yes, some warning signs of an impending cardiac arrest can occur within 24 hours or even up to a month in advance. They can include chest pain, heart palpitations, irregular heartbeat, wheezing or shortness of breath, fainting, lightheadedness, dizziness, and flu-like symptoms (nausea, abdominal or back pain).

Some possible warning signs of cardiac arrest are fainting (often the first sign), dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain, palpitations, and shortness of breath.

Some possible signs or symptoms of a sudden cardiac arrest are collapse and unresponsiveness, absence or faintness of pulse and breathing, and gasping for air.

Some possible red flags for sudden cardiac arrest are: family history of sudden cardiac death or inherited heart conditions, previous heart attack or heart failure, abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) results, and use of illicit drugs or stimulants.

Two common signs of cardiac arrest are loss of consciousness and no normal breathing.

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