Sudden cardiac arrests have been a cause of so many deaths, however, many people seem to know nothing much about them. This article is to help enlighten you on what may seem to be a fast killer disease that people experience almost on a daily basis.
Cardiac arrests occur when there is a sudden abrupt loss of breathing, heart function and overall body consciousness. Mostly, this condition occurs as a result of an interruption in your cardiac system which causes your heart to stop pumping blood and in general, cut off blood flow to your body.
Fun fact 1: Do you know that about 350,000 cardiac arrests happen outside the hospital and almost about 300,000 die from it because there was no health worker around?
Cardiac arrests are often caused by a disruption of the rhythm of the heart leading to arrhythmia (refer to a previous article on heart arrhythmias). When there is a problem with the electrical system of the heart, it causes a disruption of the pumping out of blood from the ventricles hence cutting the supply of blood from the heart to the body system.
Generally, the function of the electrical system of the heart is to organise the pumping of the heart such that there is a rhythmic pace at which the blood flow is controlled which in turn leads to what we call the heartbeat of the heart.
If there is any problem with this conduction or if there is an irregularity in the rhythm or the beat of the heart which can either cause the heart to beat too slow as in the case of bradycardia or too fast as in the case of tachycardia, it will cause heart arrhythmia which may sometimes be harmless or which in other cases cause a sudden cardiac arrest to occur.
When you are having a cardiac arrest, you will experience a common heart rhythm around the lower chambers of the heart which are otherwise known as the ventricles. There will be an increase in electrical impulses which will be rapid and erratic causing the quivering of the heart ventricles.
Instead of the quivering to produce blood, the ventricles at this time will not pump blood out of the heart. This condition is known as ventricular fibrillation.
Fun fact 2: Sudden cardiac arrests almost always happen to people who seem healthy and have no medical conditions that are known as at the time of the attack.
There are some conditions that can lead to the occurrence of sudden cardiac arrests. Although, in some cases, it has been noted that people who do not have any existing heart condition or heart disease have been seen to experience cardiac arrests.
These conditions are almost always as a result of the presence of a pre-existing sometimes undiagnosed heart disorder. They include:
Coronary artery disease
Almost everyone who has been seen to have an arrhythmia has been seen to have developed this disease. Research shows that the majority of people who have experienced cardiac arrests are seen to have this disease.
Coronary artery disease occurs when the arteries that are found within the heart become blocked with cholesterol and other fat deposits and as such cause the arteries to become blocked causing the lack of blood supply to the heart.
Many confuse sudden cardiac arrests and heart attacks to be the same thing whereas they aren’t. The difference between them will be discussed below. However, once a heart attack which is often as a result of coronary artery disease occurs, it can trigger the begin of ventricular fibrillation which in turn cause a sudden cardiac arrest to occur.
Also, if the heart attack doesn’t trigger the beginning of ventricular fibrillation, it can cause a scar on the tissue of the heart.
Once a scar occurs, it can cause a disruption in the flow of electrical impulses around the heart which in turn cause erratic and disorderliness in the electrical system of the heart causing arrhythmias to occur.
Cardiomyopathy (an abnormal enlargement of the heart)
Cardiomyopathy which is known to be the cause of an abnormally enlarged heart occurs when the muscular walls of the heart begin to stretch and thicken as a result of anomalies in the tissues.
This condition then causes the muscles of the heart to begin to malfunction and as a result distrust the electrical system of the heart causing arrhythmias to occur.
Vascular heart disease
When the heart valves begin to leak or when there is a narrowing of the heart valves as a result of fat deposits, it can cause the calves to stretch and thicken beyond control and as such lead to thickening of the muscles of the heart.
Due to the thickening, there is a tendency that the chambers of the heart can become enlarged and weakened as a result of the stress of having to pump blood through a narrowed valve and this can cause arrhythmias to occur.
Congenital heart diseases
When there is a congenital heart defect, it can cause the development of sudden cardiac arrests even in adolescents and in children. Children are at risk of developing sudden cardiac arrests when they have any congenital heart defect or vascular diseases.
Also, adults who have undergone previous surgery to correct any congenital heart defect are at a higher risk of developing cardiac arrests.
Electrical problems in the heart
Once there is any problem with the electrical circuit in the heart, there is a tendency to develop cardiac arrhythmias.
Some people who do not have problems with the heart valves or the heart but have a problem with either the SA node, the AV node, or any part of the electrical system will develop conditions which are called primary rhythm abnormalities and as such liable to experience cardiac arrests.
Fun fact 3: Do you know that having a heart attack and having a sudden cardiac arrest is not the same?
Heart attack vs cardiac arrests
These two terms although the majority of people often use them as synonyms do not in any way mean the same thing. Although, they are both related to issues that affect the heart, however, their causes are not the same.
A heart attack often occurs as a result of the blockage of an artery which causes oxygen-rich blood to the heart. Once this artery is blocked, the heart will be deprived of having any oxygen-rich blood and as a result, causes a part of the heart to begin to die off.
The more the parts of the heart dies off due to inadequate supply of oxygen, the more the tendency for a heart attack to occur. Heart attacks often give out signs and symptoms which is mostly always ignored.
Symptoms often start slowly persists for a number of hours, days, and weeks before the patient eventually experience the attack. It should be noted that the symptoms of a heart attack in males often differ from females. During a heart attack, the heart doesn’t stop beating.
Cardiac arrests, on the other hand, occur as a result of the malfunction of the electrical system of the heart. Cardiac arrests can be painful, and very fast. Cardiac arrests cause the pumping of blood to various organs such as the brain, the lungs, the muscles etc to be disrupted.
This can cause the person to suddenly lose consciousness and the patient will have no pulse. If the patient doesn’t receive immediate treatment, the patient will die.
Although these two diseases are different in their causes, they have a certain connection. This means that it is entirely possible for one to lead to another. More often than not, a sudden cardiac arrest leads to the development of a heart attack and once a person has a heart attack, it leads to an increased chance of the person developing a sudden cardiac arrest.
It is important to note that most heart attacks won’t lead to a sudden cardiac arrest, however, it is usually the common cause of cardiac arrest.
Fun fact 4: Do you know that CPR or the use of an external defibrillator can increase the survival rate of a patient from 10%-50%?
The symptoms of cardiac arrests occur suddenly and drastically. Most of the time, these symptoms can be life-threatening. They include;
- The sudden collapse of the patient
- Loss of consciousness
- No pulse
- No breathing
However, research has shown that in rare cases, cardiac arrests may often give symptoms which can indicate that the person will most likely have a cardiac arrest. These symptoms include;
- The discomfort experienced within the chest region
- Shortness of breath even without any strenuous exercise
- General body weakness
- Heart palpitations
Usually, since coronary artery disease is one of the major causes of cardiac arrests, any factor that puts you at risk of developing coronary artery disease will put you at risk of developing cardiac arrests.
Therefore, the factors that can put you at risk of developing coronary artery disease include;
1. Family history
Once you have a family history of coronary heart diseases, then you are highly at risk of developing the disease as well, which in turn, puts you at risk of developing cardiac arrest.
Smoking cuts reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and can also cause the shortage of oxygen supply to your heart which will thereby lead to you developing cardiac arrest
3. High blood pressure
High blood pressure increases the stress on your heart muscles as well as on your valves and can lead to you having coronary heart disease.
4. High blood cholesterol
High blood cholesterol can cause the clogging of your coronary arteries thereby cutting off blood supply to the heart and causing cardiac arrest.
Obesity can lead to high blood cholesterol which will, in turn, cause fat deposits to be deposited in your heart valves leading to cardiac arrest. Also, obesity can cause your heart muscles and valves to work overtime, therefore, causing stress on them and that can lead to cardiac arrest.
Diabetes most times comes along with complications such as high blood pressure and this can lead to cardiac arrest.
7. Sedentary lifestyle
Living a sedentary lifestyle means that you do nothing all day but sit down and this is not so good for your health as it can cause you to have a clogged artery as well as a host of other diseases. Exercise helps keep the heart running and a sedentary lifestyle is void of exercise.
Asides these factors, there are other factors which can put you at risk of developing cardiac arrest and they include
8. A previous episode of cardiac arrest as well as a family history
Once you have had it once, there is a 97% chance of it reoccurring except you do something about it
9. A previous heart attack
A previous heart attack causes scar tissue to be formed which can cause a disruption in the electrical conduction of the heart. Once this occurs, the patient can be considered to be highly at risk of developing cardiac arrest.
10. A previous heart disorder such as primary rhythm abnormalities which can include Brugada’s syndrome and long QT syndrome as well as congenital heart disorders, cardiomyopathy as well as heart failure
Research has shown that the higher the age, the hi her the risk of developing cardiac heart arrests.
Research has shown that the chances of developing cardiac heart arrest as a male is about 75% while the chances of developing cardiac arrest as a female are about 50%. Hence, males have an increased tendency to developing cardiac arrest more than females.
13. Nutritional imbalances
Having diets that have insufficient potassium, magnesium, zinc as well as other electrolytes increases the chances of having electrolyte imbalance which can, in turn, lead to arrhythmias and ultimately cardiac arrest.
14. Chronic kidney disease
Chronic kidney diseases also come with complications such as high blood pressures which can cause the muscles of the heart to begin to overwork themselves causing cardiac arrests.
15. Obstructive sleep apnea
Obstructive sleep apnea can cause a shortage of oxygen to the heart and as such cause heart arrhythmias and also cardiac arrest.
When a patient experiences sudden cardiac arrest, the patient will experience loss of consciousness which is a result of blood shortage or reduced blood flow to the brain.
If there is no resuscitation or if the heart rate is not returned to normal, there is a tendency of brain damage to occur and eventual death might happen. In some cases, a patient who experiences cardiac arrest show traces of brain damage.
Fun fact 5: The incidence of death from sudden cardiac arrests is almost 10 times higher than the incidence of death from breast cancer.
Cardiac arrests can be prevented by going for regular checkups and regular heart screenings, regular exercises, as well as living a generally healthy lifestyle.
- 10 Shocking Facts About Sudden Cardiac Arrest; AED Brands
- Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How Are They Different?; Heart.ORG
- Sudden cardiac arrest; Mayo Clinic