Reduce your risk of cardiac arrest today by knowing these simple things

Heart health

By Franz Gliederer, MD, MPH and the pH health care professional team

Your doctor may have told you that if you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and you’re overweight, you may get heart disease down the road. But most of the time, you have no idea when sudden cardiac arrest will strike.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart stops functioning, and the person unexpectedly dies within an hour, often with no prior heart disease diagnosis. In the U.S., 325,000 people die this way each year -- that’s half of all heart disease deaths. Worldwide, it’s 7 million.

The difference between cardiac arrest and a heart attack

Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by a failure of the electrical system that regulates the heartbeat. The heartbeat may become too fast, irregular or too slow. This is different from a heart attack, which is when a blood vessel to the heart gets blocked by a blood clot. However, both conditions usually have signs of coronary artery disease such as plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart, which may often go undiagnosed.

What are symptoms of cardiac arrest?

The symptoms of cardiac arrest are similar to a heart attack, because dangerous cardiac arrhythmias or heart standstills lead to a sudden drop in blood flow and oxygen. This may cause moderate to severe chest pain, shortness of breath, clamminess, sweating, nausea, dizziness, feeling like passing out or fainting, sudden extreme fatigue or unusual palpitations.

Who is affected?

As you might have guessed, sudden cardiac death is very rare among people younger than 35; only about 1 in 10,000 are affected. The most common reason is an abnormally enlarged heart in almost 50 percent of cases.

After age 55, there is a sharp increase, affecting about 1 in 160 people per year. As many as 40 percent of the cases have no witnesses. Males are twice as likely to be affected as women.

Rates of sudden cardiac arrest were actually even higher in the early ‘80s. The improvement is likely a result of better overall blood pressure and lipid management as well as a decline in smoking rates.

What are some preventable causes of sudden cardiac arrest?

  • Inadequate annual doctor visits.

  • Lack of personal medical follow through such as not having routine blood pressure and lipid checkups, or not following through with treatment.

  • Inadequate diabetes control.

  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices such as smoking, poor nutrition, chronic sleep deprivation, being sedentary, putting on excess weight and alcohol or drug abuse.

  • Constant unhealthy stress whether at work or in your private life. Emotional or physical stress can trigger an existing disease.

  • Lack of social or emotional support.

  • Lack of rapid access to medical care.

What kinds of screenings can help you be more proactive?

  • In young athletes, screening exams with a chest X-ray or ultrasound can detect unusual heart enlargement, left ventricular dysfunction and valve disease.

  • Adults may require a more extensive heart examination that also includes an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, lab tests for risk factors, an exercise stress test, genetic assessment and/or evaluation of hormonal imbalances.

Invest in your health. Make an appointment with your doctor for a more specialized assessment to improve your overall health, and reduce your risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, health care attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

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