How ’sudden’ is sudden cardiac arrest?

In more than 50% of all sudden cardiac arrest cases, signs of heart trouble occur weeks before the life-threatening event, a new study finds.

Sudden cardiac death is responsible for half of cardiovascular deaths in the US, with total of 350.000 death each year. Even if fast action is taken, sudden cardiac arrest results in death in more than 9 out of 10 cases.

But how sudden is sudden cardiac arrest?

New study, which sums up a 14-year research period, finds that warning symptoms occur before sudden cardiac arrest in more than 50% of the cases, but most are ignored.

The study involved 839 patients with sudden cardiac arrest and found that 51% of them had warning symptoms, mainly chest pain and dyspnea 4 weeks before sudden cardiac arrest, which re-occurred 24 hours before the life-threatening event in 93% of the cases.

sudden cardiac arrest

Warning signs

- chest pain (uncomfortable pressure, squeezing - mostly in men)
- dyspnea & shortness of breath (mostly in women)
- pain or discomfort in the arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- dizziness
- fainting
- palpitation

If you frequently have chest pain, dyspnea, shortness of breath, dizziness visit your doctor as soon as possible. If these symptoms last several minutes, call your emergency response number immediately, even if the symptoms have never occured before.

Sudden cardiac arrest vs heart attack

Although warning signs are quite similar and sudden cardiac arrest often triggers heart attack, the two terms and conditions are not the same.

Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, which is triggered by the collapse of the heart's electrical system that causes an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia). With its pumping action disrupted, the heart cannot pump blood to the brain, lungs and other organs. Sudden cardiac arrest may occur even if the arteries are in good condition.

Heart attack, however, is a circulation problem, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked in the artery.


image reference: lsq1med

What can be done?

1. Get to know your risk factors! (Heredity, history of your illness, predisposing factors)
2. Take care of yourself, lead a healthy lifestyle (frequent, moderate intensity sport; healthy eating, satisfying social life)
3. Identify and manage stress factors. Learn stress releasing techniques. Change lifystyle if necessary. Stress is the biggest risk factor not only for cardiovascular diseases, but also for predisposing hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol or anxiety dependencies.
4. Screen yourself frequently.
5. If you experience any warning signs, visit your doctor or – if the signs lasts several minutes recurrently - call your emergency number immediately.
6. Learn resuscitation and act quickly if somebody from your neighbourhood has collapsed unconsciously and has no pulse or breathing.

Useful links:
Warning signs of heart attack by the American Heart Association