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Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death

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Can Sudden Cardiac Arrest Be Treated?

Yes, sudden cardiac arrest can be treated and reversed, but emergency action must take place immediately. Survival can be as high as 90% if treatment is initiated within the first minutes after sudden cardiac arrest. The rate decreases by about 10% each minute longer it takes to initiate therapy. Those who survive have a better long-term outlook.

What Should I Do if I Witness Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

If you witness someone experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, dial 911 or your local emergency personnel immediately and initiate CPR. If done properly, CPR can save a person's life, as the procedure keeps blood and oxygen circulating through the body until help arrives.

If there is an AED available, the best chance of rescuing the person includes defibrillation with that device. The shorter the time until defibrillation, the greater the chance the person will survive. It is CPR plus defibrillation that saves a person.

After successful defibrillation, most people require hospital care to treat and prevent future cardiac problems.

Sudden Cardiac Death and Athletes

SCD occurs rarely in athletes, but when it does happen, it often affects us with shock and disbelief.

Cause: Many cases of SCD are related to undetected heart disease. In the younger population, SCD is often caused by congenital heart defects, while in older athletes (35 years and older), the cause is more often related to coronary artery disease.

Prevalence: In the younger population, most SCD occurs while playing team sports. It occurs in about one in 50,000 to one in 300,000 athletes, and more often in males. In older athletes (35 years and older), SCD occurs more often while running or jogging.

Screening: The American Heart Association recommends cardiovascular screening for high school and collegiate athletes and should include a complete and careful evaluation of the athlete's personal and family history and a physical exam. Screening should be repeated every two years, with a history obtained every year. Men aged 40 and older and women aged 50 and older should also have a thorough examination and receive education about heart disease risk factors and symptoms.  They may also need an exercise stress test based on their doctor’s evaluation. If heart problems are identified or suspected, the individual should be referred to a cardiologist for further evaluation and treatment guidelines before participating in sports.

For More Information:

 Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes Foundation
A nonprofit organization, established to help prevent sudden and unexpected cardiac death in children and young adults.
508 E South Temple Ste. 20, Salt Lake City, UT 84102
1-800-786-7723
www.sads.org

Heart Rhythm Society
1400 K St., NW, Suite 500, Washington D.C. 20005
(202) 464-3400
www.HRSpatients.org

CPR Information: For more information about CPR, please contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross or the American Heart Association. Or ask your doctor for more information.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on February 10, 2014
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