Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Handling Heart Disease Emergencies

Font Size
A
A
A

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

SCD occurs most frequently in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s, and affects men twice as often as it does women. SCD is rare in children, although the exact prevalence is not known.

Recommended Related to Heart Disease

Recognizing Heart Attack, Stroke, and Angina

Doctors call it the "Hollywood heart attack": a middle-aged man breaks into a cold sweat, grimaces, and clutches his chest-just like in the movies. Trouble is, in real life, heart attack symptoms don't always announce themselves so dramatically. More often they are insidious and puzzling, such as unexplained fatigue or abdominal discomfort, and many people wait for hours before seeking help. Big mistake, doctors tell WebMD. The ability to quickly spot signs of heart attack, angina, and stroke...

Read the Recognizing Heart Attack, Stroke, and Angina article > >

Sudden cardiac arrest can be treated if addressed within the first few minutes. The American Heart Association promotes the following 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
Article
red wine
Video
 
eating blueberries
Article
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Slideshow
 
Inside A Heart Attack
SLIDESHOW
Omega 3 Sources
SLIDESHOW
 
Salt Shockers
SLIDESHOW
lowering blood pressure
SLIDESHOW