Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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What is Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system that occurs when, without warning, the entire heart stops pumping. It is not a heart attack, which occurs when blood supply to part of the heart stops and causes a section of the heart to die. SCA is responsible for 325,000 U.S. deaths each year. Many of these deaths are preventable. 

What Causes Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

The most common cause of cardiac arrest is a heart rhythm disorder (arrhythmia) called ventricular fibrillation. It’s when the electrical signals that make the heart pump become rapid and malfunction. When this happens, the heart can't pump blood to the rest of the body. A defibrillator can save your life by restoring your heart’s regular rhythm.

The two most common causes of sudden cardiac arrest are:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • A low ejection fraction

What's an Ejection Fraction?

It's a measure of how well your heart pumps blood.

A healthy heart pumps 55 percent or more of its blood out to your body. An ejection fraction of less than 35 percent means you’re at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.   

Echocardiograms determine your ejection fraction number. It's a painless test that uses ultrasound waves to take a moving picture of your heart.

Treatment for Sudden Cardiac Arrest

If you're at high risk, doctors at our Heart & Vascular Center can implant an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) with an outpatient procedure.

The ICD device monitors your heart and delivers an electrical shock when you need it.

Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest? Q&A with Dr. Pamela Mason

Pamela Mason, MD, describes the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest and the treatment options the Heart Rhythm Center and Cardiac Device Clinic offer. View Transcript.