Cardiac Arrest - Risks and Prevention

When people hear the term cardiac arrest, they may think it’s the same thing as a heart attack, but it’s not. The two things are different and can have very different outcomes. Sudden cardiac arrest is abrupt, can occur without warning signs, and is often fatal. 

The heart has an electrical system that regulates how the heart beats in order to pump blood throughout the body. When sudden cardiac arrest occurs, there is a disruption in the electrical system and the heart suddenly stops beating. Often the cause is an undetected heart condition, but other causes include infection or a severe blow to the chest. 

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, happens when the heart is damaged by restricted blood flow due to blood clots or vein issues. The survival rate of a heart attack is much higher than sudden cardiac arrest. The two conditions can be related, as reduced blood flow can trigger a disruption in the electrical system and cause cardiac arrest, but they can also occur independently of each other.

Who is at risk?

Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest are similar to those of many other heart conditions. Individuals with an existing heart condition or a family history of heart conditions, particularly coronary heart disease and cardiac arrest, are at increased risk. Structural defects of the heart, particularly in the left ventricle, are also known to contribute to cardiac arrest. 

Other risk factors include:

  • Age
  • History of heart disease or heart attack
  • Family history of heart disease or heart attack
  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Nutritional imbalance, particularly low potassium or magnesium
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Obesity
  • Sedentary lifestyle

How can it be prevented?

Some of the most powerful tools to prevent sudden cardiac arrest include regular checkups and screenings for heart disease. Finding potential problems before they become problems is an important step for your overall heart health. 

Tell your doctor about any family history of heart disease so they can recommend further screenings if necessary. In particular, family history of cardiomyopathy or sudden cardiac arrest may result in a closer look at the left ventricle. Doctors will work to correct any structural defects and treat any known risk factors in order to lower risk for cardiac arrest.

In your everyday life, living a heart healthy lifestyle can help prevent sudden cardiac arrest. Exercise regularly, aiming for 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week. Eat a heart healthy diet that is low in cholesterol and saturated fats. Lose weight and stop smoking to reduce your risk of sudden cardiac arrest and many other heart diseases. Manage other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. 

Saving lives during sudden cardiac arrest

Unfortunately, fewer than 1 in 10 people survive sudden cardiac arrest. Within minutes, brain damage and death can occur due to lack of oxygen. In the event of cardiac arrest, keeping blood pumping through the body is critical for survival. If cardiac arrest happens at home or in the workplace, the use of CPR to keep blood flowing until emergency workers arrive increases the chance of survival. Where available, use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) can help restart the heart and keep blood flowing to the brain and the body. 

If you have risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest, contact Oklahoma Heart Hospital to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists to discuss ways to reduce your risk.