More than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur in the United States each year. Individuals with heart disease are at higher risk, however, cardiac arrest can strike without warning and can occur in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors.
What is cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function in a person. It can come on suddenly or in the wake of other symptoms. It is often fatal if necessary steps are not taken immediately.
Cardiac arrest is often mistaken for the term “heart attack.” While a heart attack may cause cardiac arrest, the two are not the same. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart, damaging heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply. By contrast, cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, and the heart’s pumping function is “arrested,” or stopped.
What are the causes of cardiac arrest?
Cardiac arrest can result from most known heart conditions. Most cardiac arrests occur when a diseased heart malfunctions and causes an abnormal heart rhythm. Irregular heartbeats such as these are life threatening. Other sources of cardiac arrest may include:
- Heart tissue that is scarred or enlarged,
- Heart muscle that is thickened due to high blood pressure, heart valve disease or other causes,
- Heart medications that sometimes produce arrythmias,
- Significant changes in blood levels of potassium and magnesium,
- Electrical heart abnormalities,
- Rare cases of blood vessel abnormalities during intense physical activity, and
- Recreational drug use.
Lower your risk of cardiac arrest
Following a heart-healthy lifestyle can help you lower your risk for heart disease, cardiac arrest, and other heart problems. Heart disease prevention includes:
- Eating a healthy diet,
- Maintaining a healthy weight,
- Managing stress,
- Getting regular physical activity,
- Quitting smoking,
- Checking your cholesterol,
- Controlling your blood pressure,
- Managing your diabetes, and
- Taking your medications as directed.
If cardiac arrest happens to someone near you, don’t be afraid to take action. Early intervention, high-quality CPR, including compression only CPR, and use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) immediately following cardiac arrest can reduce morbidity and save lives.
For resources and information about cardiac arrest, visit the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Institute of Health cardiac arrest website.