Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is when your heart suddenly stops beating which stops blood from flowing to the brain and other vital organs. SCA can cause death within minutes if not treated immediately. Quick treatment with a defibrillator can be lifesaving.
Typically, the first sign of SCA is loss of consciousness (fainting) which happens when the heart stops beating. Some people may have a racing heartbeat or feel dizzy or light-headed just before they faint. And sometimes people have chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting in the hour before they have an SCA.
A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is blocked, but the heart usually doesn’t suddenly stop beating. With an SCA, the heart stops beating. Sometimes an SCA can happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.
* Have coronary artery disease (CAD). Usually CAD doesn’t cause symptoms, so you may not know you have it.
* Are older; your risk increases with age.
* Are a man; it is more common in men than in women.
* Are Black or African American, especially if you have co-morbidities such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart failure, or chronic kidney disease.
* Have a personal history of heartbeats that aren’t regular (arrhythmia) or inherited disorders that can cause arrhythmia.
* Have drug or alcohol abuse problems.
* Have had a heart attack.
A SCA can happen when the heart’s electrical system – which controls the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat – is not working right and causes irregular heartbeats which are called arrhythmias. These arrhythmias may cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Some can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body; this is the type that causes SCA.
* Ventricular fibrillation, a type of arrhythmia where the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers) don’t beat normally. Instead, they beat very fast and very irregularly. They can’t pump blood to the body.
* Coronary artery disease (CAD) happens when the arteries of the heart cannot deliver enough oxygen-rich blood to the heart. It is often caused by the buildup of plaque, a waxy substance, inside the lining of larger coronary arteries. The plaque blocks some or all of the blood flow to the heart.
* Structural changes in the heart, such as an enlarged heart due to high blood pressure or advanced heart disease. Heart infections can also cause changes to the structure of the heart.
* Physical stress can cause your heart’s electrical system to fail, such as intense physical activity in which your body releases the hormone adrenaline. This hormone can trigger SCA in people who have heart problems.
SCA happens without warning and requires emergency treatment. It is usually diagnosed after it happens. Providers do this by ruling out other causes of a person’s sudden collapse.
Your provider may refer you to a cardiologist. The cardiologist may ask you to get various heart health tests to see how well your heart is working. He or she will work with you to decide whether you need treatment to prevent SCA.
At the Mason City Clinic there are 12 board certified cardiologists helping people of northern Iowa with their heart conditions and disease. Board-certified in cardiology, cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology, cardiac electrophysiology and interventional cardiology, our specialists have well over 100 years of combined experience and extensive medical training, including advanced fellowship training from the most prestigious institutions.
Mason City Clinic cardiologists see patients at the main office in Mason City, and through our community outreach program, also travel to see patients in locations across northern Iowa and southern Minnesota including in Albert Lea, Algona, Belmond, Britt, Buffalo Center, Charles City, Clarion, Cresco, Emmetsburg, Forest City, Garner, Greene, Hampton, Iowa Falls, Lake Mills, Mason City, New Hampton, Northwood, Osage, and Waverly.
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