Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death
What Are the Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest? continued...
Other risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest include:
- Ejection fraction of less than 40%, particularly in combination with ventricular tachycardia
- Prior episode of sudden cardiac arrest
- Family history of sudden cardiac arrest or SCD
- Personal or family history of certain abnormal heart rhythms, including long or short QT syndrome, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, extremely low heart rates, or heart block
- Ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation after a heart attack
- History of congenital heart defects or blood vessel abnormalities
- History of syncope (fainting episodes of unknown cause)
- Heart failure: a condition in which the heart's pumping power is weaker than normal. Patients with heart failure are 6 to 9 times more likely than the general population to experience ventricular arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a thickened heart muscle that especially affects the ventricles
- Significant changes in blood levels of potassium and magnesium (from using diuretics, for example), even if there is not underlying heart disease
- Recreational drug abuse
- Taking drugs that are "pro-arrhythmic" may increase the risk for life-threatening arrhythmias
Can Sudden Cardiac Death Be Prevented?
If you have any of the risk factors for sudden cardiac death (listed above), it is important that you speak with your doctor about possible steps to reduce your risk.
Keeping regular follow-up appointments with your doctor, making certain lifestyle changes, taking medications as prescribed, and having interventional procedures or surgery (as recommended) are ways you can reduce your risk.
Follow-Up Care With Your Doctor: Your doctor will tell you how often you need to have follow-up visits. To prevent future episodes of sudden cardiac arrest, your doctor will want to perform diagnostic tests to determine what caused the cardiac event. Tests may include electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), ambulatory monitoring, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, and electrophysiology studies.
Ejection Fraction (EF): EF is a measurement of the percentage (fraction) of blood pumped (ejected) out of the heart with each beat. EF can be measured in your doctor's office during an echocardiogram (echo) or during other tests such as a MUGA (multiple gated acquisition) scan, cardiac catheterization, nuclear stress test, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the heart. The EF of a healthy heart ranges from 55% to 75%. Your EF can go up and down, based on your heart condition and the effectiveness of the therapies that have been prescribed. If you have heart disease, it is important to have your EF measured initially, and then as needed, based on changes in your condition. Ask your doctor how often you should have your EF checked.
Reducing Your Risk Factors: If you have coronary artery disease -- and even if you do not -- there are certain lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. These lifestyle changes include:
- Quitting smoking
- Losing weight
- Exercising regularly
- Following a low-fat diet
- Managing diabetes
- Managing other health conditions including high blood pressure and cholesterol