October 26, 2015
A few years ago a seemingly healthy 16-year-old boy, Adam Thompson, died of sudden cardiac arrest at home in a small town near Sioux Falls, South Dakota. He had no warning. The first symptom was death. It turns out he had an enlarged heart from a condition of thickening known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He had never been diagnosed with it because there were never any symptoms to warrant it. The Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association says 1 in 500 people have the disease.
Sudden cardiac arrest in youth is not a rare occurrence. It happens to thousands of kids each year – on the football field, on the soccer field, in the classroom and in their sleep. And hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is just one cause.
October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month and the Heart Rhythm Society is raising awareness for sudden cardiac arrest, also known as SCA, with a new initiative that can help the public become more familiar with what it is, how it affects youth as well as adults, and what we can do to help save lives.
Time is Everything
Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. SCA usually results from an electrical disturbance in the heart which disrupts its pumping action, stopping blood flow to the rest of the body. The person may suddenly pass out and appear lifeless except for some gasping. Seizures lasting 10-20 seconds may also be experienced.
Time-to-treatment is critical when considering the chance of survival for an SCA victim. Ninety-five percent of those who experience SCA die because they don't receive life-saving defibrillation within four to six minutes, before brain and permanent death start to occur.
The most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest is an irregular or abnormal rhythm, called an arrhythmia, which is too uncoordinated to pump any blood. The heart quivers rather than contracts normally.
Other causes are the thickening of the heart muscle (Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy), genetic defects (such as Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia), heart rhythm disorders (Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome, Wolff Parkinson White syndrome) and heart valve disorders (such as Mitral Valve Prolapse).
But SCA can happen to people who do not have heart disease. It can be triggered by recreational drug use, electrocution, or even physical shocks to the body such as commotio cordis, a disruption in the heart rhythm due to a sudden blow to the chest.
What Can You Do?
Call 911 ASAP and start CPR as quickly as possible. And, if it's available, use an automated external defibrillator (AED) as soon as possible. AEDs are a computerized medical device that can check a person’s heart rhythm. It recognizes and delivers a shock to a heart when it needs it. AEDs are found in many public places such as airports, gyms and office buildings.The AED will deliver a shock only when an irregular heart rhythm is detected.
How Can You Prevent SCA?
Live a healthy lifestyle — exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, maintain a healthy weight and avoid smoking.
Treat and monitor all health conditions including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.
Control or stop abnormal heart rhythms that may trigger life-threatening arrhythmias with proper medication, implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), and in some, cases surgical procedures
Know your family heart history and understand the risks for other cardiovascular-related conditions and share that information with your physician.
This coming holiday season give your loved ones a lifesaving gift. Take a CPR-AED class. They're offered through the American Heart Association, American Red Cross, our local fire department, hospital, and community college. If in fact you don't have the time to take a class, check out The HeartRescue Project for a quick tutorial.
The life you save will most likely be that of a friend, relative, or co-worker.