If you experienced sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and lived to tell the tale, congratulations. You’ve beaten the odds. Nearly 90 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrests are fatal, and many survivors suffer neurological damage. But even if you’ve been fortunate up this point, you’re not totally out of the woods. First-time survivors are at an elevated risk of experiencing multiple cardiac arrests, so you’ll need to be proactive to maintain your heart health long into the future.
Active Prevention of Second Cardiac Arrest
The following steps are critical for anyone who has experienced a cardiac arrest:
- Visit your cardiologist for regular checkups. The frequency of these checkups will depend on the severity of your heart condition. Your cardiologist will determine the schedule (whether quarterly, every six months, or less frequently), but make sure to keep your appointments.
- Follow your doctor’s advice. Depending on what triggered your previous cardiac arrest, your doctor may recommend several courses of action. For example, you may be prescribed a beta blocker or statin to reduce your risk. Your doctor may also recommend an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). An ICD is an internal defibrillator that monitors your heart rate and delivers an automatic electric shock if it detects a dangerous arrhythmia. Always go with your doctor’s recommendation.
- Be diligent about your diet and weight. Heart disease—especially coronary heart disease—is one of the biggest risk factors for cardiac arrest. Conditions like obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol can exacerbate the condition and elevate your risk. If you’ve suffered a previous cardiac arrest, you must be especially diligent about living a heart-healthy lifestyle. That means taking your medications, keeping your weight under control, and eating healthy foods like lean proteins, vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Manage your stress. High blood pressure is a risk factor for SCA, but diet alone isn’t the cause of blood pressure spikes. Stress management is critical for cardiac arrest prevention. Minimize stressful activities, make sure to get at least 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night, and consider taking up a stress-fighting activity like yoga or mindfulness meditation.
- Quit smoking. About one in five heart disease deaths is related to smoking. Nicotine reduces the amount of oxygen to your heart, raises your blood pressure and heart rate, and increases your likelihood of developing blood clots. If you’ve experienced sudden cardiac arrest and you’re a smoker, kicking the habit is one of the most important things you can do.
How to Prepare for the Possibility of Multiple Cardiac Arrests
Following the aforementioned steps can reduce your likelihood of experiencing multiple cardiac arrests, but the possibility still exists. You must have a plan in place to address this possibility and maximize your chances of a positive outcome.
Ask your doctor if an ICD is right for you
If you’re in the highest-risk category, your doctor may recommend an ICD to monitor your heart rate at all times. In the event that you do go into cardiac arrest, the ICD will shock your heart just like an external defibrillator, potentially saving your life.
Ensure that everyone in your home is trained in CPR
When the heart stops, cardiopulmonary resuscitation slows the damage to the internal organs. This allows ample time for emergency services to arrive and provide treatment. When a person goes into cardiac arrest, CPR should be the first step.
Keep an automated external defibrillator (AED) in the home
If you don’t have an ICD implanted, you’ll want to ensure that you still have defibrillation equipment close at hand. Most AED machines are designed for the lay user. They use simple voice coaching to guide the user through CPR, pad placement, and electric shock delivery. If a person in the home is able to provide quick defibrillation, they may be able to revive you quickly with minimal damage to the heart and brain. You may even save the life of someone else.
Invest in a medical alert system
This one is especially important if you live or spend a lot of time alone. You ideally want a medical alert band, bracelet, or necklace that connects you to emergency services at the push of a button. You can reach out for help at the first sign of symptoms. Although cardiac arrest can hit without warning, there are often signs that emerge in the minutes or seconds before the heart stops. These include:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
If you notice any of these signs, call for help immediately. Every second matters.
Why Are Previous Sufferers at Risk for Multiple Cardiac Arrests?
Sudden cardiac arrest is most often a sign that you have ischemic heart disease. Many people don’t even know they have this condition until cardiac arrest occurs, but having it means that you’re always going to be at risk for more cardiac episodes.
In addition, sudden cardiac arrest often occurs in individuals with a history of heart arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation or ventricular fibrillation. This may be due to an inherited condition. It’s likely that these unnatural heart arrhythmias will continue after the initial cardiac arrest, leaving you vulnerable to future episodes as well.
In short, cardiac arrest occurs because your heart is vulnerable to an electrical malfunction. The risk of this malfunction doesn’t disappear when you survive cardiac arrest. It only becomes visible. And depending on the type of damage sustained during the emergency, the problem may also become more serious. That’s why it’s so important for past cardiac arrest sufferers to be proactive with their heart health.
What Every Cardiac Arrest Survivor Needs to Know
As a quick recap, every cardiac arrest survivor should know the following:
- If you experienced one SCA, you are in the high-risk category for a subsequent cardiac arrest.
- A majority of adult cardiac arrests are the result of ischemic heart disease. To reduce the risk of a future episode, you must maintain a heart-healthy lifestyle: nutrition, exercise, stress management. Smoking is out of the question.
- Only your doctor will be able to determine—with some certainty—the underlying cause of your cardiac arrest. Be sure to heed his or her advice and recommendations.
- A cardiac arrest usually occurs with little to no warning, and every minute matters. If you’re at a high risk, invest in a quality medical alert bracelet or necklace that summons emergency services at the push of a button.
- Make sure that everyone in your home is trained in the fundamentals of CPR.
- If you don’t currently have an ICD in place, invest in an automated external defibrillator. If you go into cardiac arrest a second time, the AED might be used to save your life.
Cardiac arrest survivors can lead full and enriching lives. But your long-term health must be your No. 1 priority.