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Heart Failure Health Center

Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Why It Happens

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If You're at Risk

Talk with your doctor.

There are steps you can take to lower your risk. Your doctor may recommend medication, surgery, or other treatments or lifestyle changes. Someone in your household should be trained in CPR and in the use of an AED.

A device called an ICD (implantable cardioverter-defibrillator) can help prevent sudden cardiac arrest in some people who are at high risk. The device usually goes under the skin in your upper chest. It monitors your heart rhythm. If it detects an irregular heart rhythm, it uses electrical pulses or shocks to restore a normal rhythm.

Sudden cardiac arrest sometimes happens in people who have no known heart condition or any previous symptoms.

“But studies show that people who survive cardiac arrest often realize later that they had symptoms they were ignoring. If they had sought treatment, they might have been able to prevent the sudden cardiac arrest,” Fonarow says.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Athletes

Sometimes sudden cardiac arrest strikes seemingly healthy athletes. In these cases, it often turns out that the athlete had an undiagnosed condition, such as cardiomyopathy.

Christine Lawless, MD, co-chair of the American College of Cardiology’s Sports and Exercise Cardiology Section & Leadership Council, suggests that athletic teens and young adults get screened for potential heart problems. The American Heart Association recommends a 12-point screening test that looks at family and personal history, along with a physical exam.

Finding those problems early "may prevent catastrophic cardiac events such as sudden cardiac arrest,” Lawless says. 

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Reviewed on January 09, 2014

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