Understanding what causes sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—and how to prevent it—could save your life one day. According to the American Heart Association, 356,000 people suffer from out-of-hospital cardiac arrests annually, and the condition is usually fatal unless cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an automated external defibrillator (AED) are used within minutes. To protect yourself and those you love, it’s important to understand:
- What sudden cardiac arrest is
- Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest
- Screening and prevention of cardiac arrest
- What to do if you witness a cardiac arrest
What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
In a sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating unexpectedly. Blood stops flowing to the brain and vital organs, leading to death within minutes if life-saving measures aren’t applied. Most cardiac arrests are a result of ventricular fibrillation, in which the lower chambers quiver rapidly instead of beating with a normal rhythm.
While cardiac arrest is often confused with a heart attack (and the two can occur simultaneously), a cardiac arrest has to do with electrical impulses while a heart attack is caused by a physical blockage (like a blood clot) to the heart. Those who have suffered a heart attack in the past are at a higher risk for SCA.
What Are the Risk Factors for Cardiac Arrest?
People both with and without heart conditions can suffer cardiac arrest. However, adults with ischemic heart disease (also known as coronary heart disease and coronary artery disease) are at higher risk for SCA and need to know how to prevent cardiac arrest, or at least know how to reduce the risk.
Other major risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest include:
- A personal history of arrhythmias (an abnormal heart rhythm or irregular heartbeat)
- A family history of cardiac arrest
- A family history of heart disease
- A congenital heart defect
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (which puts you at risk of atrial fibrillation and cardiac death)
- Previous heart attack
- Previous cardiac arrest
- Heart failure
Studies show that you are also more likely to suffer from sudden cardiac arrest if you are over 40, are a man, or are black and have an underlying risk factor such as heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease.
How Can You Reduce Your Risk for Cardiac Arrest?
While even healthy people—such as a child or athlete—can experience a cardiac emergency, reducing emotional stress and following a heart-healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce your overall risk of sudden death from SCA.
1. Heart-Healthy Diet
To take good care of your heart, maintain a nutritious, whole-food diet that includes quality ingredients from every food group. Emphasize:
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice
- Minimally processed dairy products
- Lean proteins like fish, poultry, and occasional lean cuts of meat
- Olive and avocado oil
To reduce a risk factor like high blood pressure, you should also limit salt, added sugar, saturated fat, and trans-fat (found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils). You should also eat only as many calories as you need—calculated by gender, age, activity level, and body-mass index. If you are overweight, losing excess weight should form part of your plan for how to prevent cardiac arrest.
2. Physical Activity
To strengthen your heart, Mayo Clinic recommends engaging in at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity every day, including moderate aerobic exercise like walking, more vigorous aerobic exercise like running, and at least two strength-training sessions per week.
Even if you can’t achieve the recommended amount of weekly exercise, increasing your physical activity by taking the stairs, walking the dog, or getting out into the garden can all help to lower your risk for heart disease.
3. Quit Smoking
Smoking is one of the top factors for heart disease because it can damage the heart and reduce the amount of oxygen in your blood—increasing your blood pressure and heart rate as the heart muscle pumps harder to oxygenate the body.
Fortunately, your risk of heart disease starts to drop only a day after you quit and is about half the risk of a non-smoker in the first year post-cigarettes. Yes, it’s hard, but quitting is one of the best things you can do to protect your heart health and prevent a cardiac arrest
4. Purchase an AED
If you are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest, you should have an AED at the ready. An automated external defibrillator can provide emergency treatment if a cardiac event does occur. Compared to chest compressions alone, using a cardiac defibrillator plus CPR can raise the chances of survival and prevent death in up to 38% of cases.
While portable defibrillators can’t prevent a cardiac arrest from occurring, they can shock your heart back into a normal rhythm and help prevent loss of heart function and death before the emergency medical services arrive. Chest compressions—used in conjunction with defibrillators—keep oxygen-rich blood pumping throughout the body. This blood flow then works to keep the brain and vital organs alive.
Recommended AEDs for Treating Cardiac Arrest
The best defibrillators for reducing the risk of death from SCA are those that are easy to use and offer enhanced voice coaching for CPR. Among the leading AED brands, two excellent models are:
- HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P
- Philips HeartStart FRx
HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P
In a medical emergency, the HeartSine Samaritan PAD 350P is one of the easiest-to-use AEDs on the market. Not only is this device extremely lightweight, but it also offers:
- Military-grade certification for shock and vibration resistance
- Resistance to high and low temperatures
- Easy two-button operation
- Audible voice coaching with a metronome for chest compressions
- Pediatric pads (sold separately) for victims under 8 years old and/or 55 pounds
Furthermore, the HeartSine 350P is one of the most affordable portable defibrillators on the market. This makes it perfect for everything from private homes to institutions.
Philips HeartStart FRx
The recertified Philips HeartStart FRx is another excellent defibrillator that can help reduce deaths from sudden cardiac arrest. One of the leading devices on the market, this automated external defibrillator provides:
- An infant-child key that changes the intensity of the shock immediately
- Optional CPR voice coaching that can be turned on or off in addition to voice coaching for delivering the shock
- A large memory bank for storing cardio data that can be given to emergency medical services personnel when reporting the event
By investing in a recertified device, you can save money while still benefiting from the same life-saving technologies. Every recertified device from AED Leader has been subject to a full 9-point recertification process and comes complete with a 3-year warranty, offering full peace of mind at an extremely accessible price.
Prevent Deaths from Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest is one of the top killers in the United States. However, you can help to lower cardiac arrest rates—and prevent SCA-related deaths—by following these simple steps:
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease by maintaining a healthy diet and lifestyle and keeping your cholesterol levels in check.
- Find out if you have a family history of cardiac conditions, and undergo diagnostic tests.
- Consult with medical professionals if you have a racing or irregular heartbeat or you experience chest pain.
- Keep a user-friendly defibrillator on-site to provide life-saving cardiac arrest care until emergency personnel can arrive and provide medical treatment. Make sure that your loved ones know how to use the AED in an emergency.
Cardiac arrest is something that you and your loved ones might never expect, but the consequences—if you’re not ready—can be tragic. Now that you understand how to prevent cardiac arrest and the importance of AEDs, take action to reduce the controllable risk factors today.