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Every year in the United States, more than 325,000 people die when their hearts suddenly and unexpectedly stop beating. Known as Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), this syndrome happens without warning and instantly stops the flow of blood to the brain and vital organs. It proves fatal in 92 percent of cases if not properly treated within minutes. It claims as many lives than breast cancer, lung cancer, AIDS and stroke deaths combined.
Unlike a heart attack, which happens when a blocked blood vessel prevents blood from flowing to the heart muscle, SCA is caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system that abruptly halts the heartbeat. These malfunctions are most often caused by an arrhythmia, or an irregular heart rhythm. In most cases of SCA, arrhythmias known as ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF) cause the electrical impulses to fire too rapidly.
When SCA strikes, immediate treatment is critical. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and treatment with an automated external defibrillator (AED) can help save the patient’s life if given within minutes of the event. But defibrillation with an AED is the only way to restore normal electrical activity to the heart and get it beating again.
SCA can strike anyone, regardless of age, gender or ethnicity. Even being in excellent health is no guarantee. The syndrome has affected professional athletes and people with no known health problems. However, about 80 percent of SCA victims do have some sign of coronary heart disease. SCA affects males four times more than females and occurs during exercise more than 60% of the time.
While SCA often has no warning signs, a study published by the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine (2012) revealed that 72% of students who suffered from SCA were reported by their parents to have at least one cardiovascular symptom before SCA. They just didn’t recognize it as life threatening. That’s why it’s important for everyone to understand potential warnings and risk factors based on your family’s heart history.
These symptoms are potential indicators that SCA is about to happen:
The following factors increase risk of SCA:
An AED analyzes the victim’s heart rhythm and determines whether a shock is required to restore the rhythm. Thanks to clear audio or visual instructions to walk the user through the necessary steps, sixth-grade school children with moderate training can learn to use AEDs to save the lives of cardiac arrest victims almost as quickly and efficiently as professional emergency medical personnel.
For every minute that passes without defibrillation, a victim’s chance of survival decreases 10 percent. On average, it takes EMS teams in the U.S. an average of six to 12 minutes to arrive. That means we all need to be prepared to face this kind of crisis. Almost every state includes the “good faith” use of an AED by any person under the Good Samaritan Laws. It’s estimated that the widespread availability and use of AEDs could save tens of thousands of American lives each year.