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Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death

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Can Sudden Cardiac Death Be Prevented? continued...

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

If you have questions or are unsure how make these changes, talk to your doctor. Patients and families should know the signs and symptoms of coronary artery disease and the steps to take if symptoms occur.

Medications: To help reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest, doctors may prescribe medications to people who have had heart attacks or who have heart failure or arrhythmias such as irregular heart rhythms. These drugs may include ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, calcium-channel blockers, and other antiarrhythmics. For patients with high cholesterol and coronary artery disease, statin drugs may be prescribed.

If medication is prescribed, your doctor will give you more specific instructions. It is important that you know the names of your medications and any directions that you need to follow when taking them. If you have any questions, be sure to ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD): For people whose risk factors put them at great risk for sudden cardiac death, an ICD may be inserted as a preventive treatment. An ICD is a small machine similar to a pacemaker that is designed to correct arrhythmias. It detects and then corrects a fast heart rate. The ICD constantly monitors the heart rhythm. When it detects a very fast or slow heart rhythm, it delivers energy (a small, but powerful shock) to the heart muscle to cause the heart to beat in a normal rhythm again. The ICD also records the data of each abnormal heartbeat, which can be viewed by the doctor using a special machine kept at the hospital.

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