Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Font Size

How to Handle Heart Emergencies

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function (sudden cardiac arrest). It is a leading cause of death in the U.S., with about 295,000 adults dying each year. SCD is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths.

SCD occurs most frequently in adults; the risk rises with age. SCD affects men twice as often as it does women. SCD is rare in children, although the exact prevalence is unknown.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

After a Heart Attack

Most people survive a first heart attack and go on to live a full and productive life. Here are steps you can take after a heart attack to ensure a full recovery.

Read the After a Heart Attack article > >

Sudden cardiac arrest can be reversed if treated within the first few minutes. The American Heart Association promotes these four steps, called ''the chain of survival:"

  1. Early Access to Care. Quick contact with emergency care is essential. Call 911 (in most communities) or your local emergency number immediately.
  2. Early Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Learning CPR is the greatest gift you can give your family and friends. If performed properly (see below), CPR can help save a life until emergency medical help arrives.
  3. Early Defibrillation. In most adults, sudden cardiac death is related to ventricular fibrillation. Quick defibrillation (delivery of an electrical shock) is necessary to return the heart rhythm to a normal heartbeat. Many public places -- such as malls, golf courses, and airports -- have automated external defibrillators (AEDs; see below) available for use in emergency situations.
  4. Early Advanced Care. After successful defibrillation, most patients require hospital care to treat and prevent future events.

These four steps can increase survival as much as 90% if initiated within the first minutes after sudden cardiac arrest. Survival decreases by about 10% each minute longer.

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
empty football helmet
red wine
eating blueberries
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Inside A Heart Attack
Omega 3 Sources
Salt Shockers
lowering blood pressure