Fewer events strike with such startling swiftness and potentially deadly consequences as Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), a condition that affects more than 350,000 Americans each year and of which nine out of 10 victims die. This Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, Steward sat down with Arvind Gireesh, MD, and Shyam Bhakta, MD, to better understand this disease that strikes people of all ages (including children) who otherwise may appear to be healthy.
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
“Sudden Cardiac Arrest is the sudden loss of all heart activity (i.e., the heart stops beating), which can cut off the circulation of oxygen to vital organs and lead to unconsciousness and death,” explains Dr. Gireesh.
The most significant risk factor for SAC is having a history of heart disease such as coronary artery disease, prior heart attacks, or arrythmias. Older adults and men are at a higher risk for cardiac arrest, and black men and women are also more likely to die from out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest than white men and women. Other risk factors for SAC include:
- Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption
- Family history of cardiac issues
- Existing conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity
What are the Signs of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
There are some key symptoms to keep an eye out for when diagnosing sudden cardiac arrest. “The first sign of SCA is loss of consciousness or fainting, which happens when the heart stops beating,” says Dr. Gireesh. “Before fainting, many patients report feeling dizzy or lightheaded. Other symptoms can include chest pain, shortness of breath, nausea, shaking, or vomiting before losing consciousness.”
What Can You Do to Help Someone Experiencing Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
“If you witness someone experiencing the symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest, immediately shout for help and ask for someone to call 911 for emergency medical care,” says Dr. Bhakta. “Next, begin checking the patient’s breathing; if the person is not breathing or is gasping for air, begin CPR with compressions and continue CPR until medical personnel arrive at the scene.”
What is the Difference Between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and a Heart Attack?
People often confuse SCA with a heart attack. However, the two medical conditions are significantly different and require unique treatment plans.
While a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, SCA occurs when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating. Additionally, those experiencing sudden cardiac arrest immediately fall into unconsciousness, while heart attacks often cause patients to remain conscious while experiencing pain, shortness of breath, or feeling faint and becoming sweaty. The appropriate responses to the two medical conditions also differ.
“If someone is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, it is critical that onlookers call 911 first,” says Dr. Bhakta. “But if someone is experiencing sudden cardiac arrest, immediately begin administering CPR while asking for others to call 911.”
What are Tips for Preventing Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
“Preventing sudden cardiac arrest requires a combination of awareness, lifestyle modifications, and medical interventions—a focus on maintaining a healthy heart and adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle,” advises Dr. Bhakta. Some of these critical steps include:
- Regular physical activity
- Maintaining a healthy diet
- Stop smoking and avoid excessive alcohol use
- Screening for family history of sudden cardiac arrest
- Regular cardiovascular check-ups
If you or a loved one have questions about Sudden Cardiac Arrest, or to find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.
Arvind Gireesh, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at Holy Family Hospital
Arvind Gireesh, MD, FACC, FSCAI is a board-certified interventional cardiologist and Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Steward Holy Family Hospital in Methuen, Massachusetts. He brings with him experience as Medical Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory and the Nanticoke Vein Center in Seaford, Delaware. Previously, Dr. Gireesh held positions as an interventional cardiologist at Exeter Hospital, Exeter, NH, Brockton Memorial Hospital, Brockton, MA, Nanticoke Memorial Hospital, Seaford, Delaware and as an Attending Physician, Hospitalist Group Langone Medical Center, New York, New York.
Dr. Gireesh is board certified in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, and interventional cardiology. He received his medical degree at Saba University School of Medicine, Saba, Netherlands Antilles and completed fellowships in cardiovascular medicine and interventional cardiology at St. Vincent Hospital in Worcester, MA. He has been published in numerous clinical journals, and is licensed to practice in Delaware, New Hampshire, New York state, and Massachusetts.
Shyam Bhakta, MD, Interventional Cardiologist at Trumbull Regional and Sharon Regional Medical Center
Shyam Bhakta, MD, MBA, earned his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, Michigan and completed an Internal Medicine residency at University Hospitals in Cleveland. Dr. Bhakta then completed a fellowship in cardiovascular disease at University Hospitals and a fellowship in Interventional Cardiology at University of Colorado Affiliated Hospitals in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Bhakta is board-certified in both Interventional Cardiology and Nuclear Cardiology and has clinical interest in cardiovascular disease, coronary angiography, angioplasty and stent placement, and medical management of cardiovascular disease.
To find a doctor or schedule an appointment, visit Steward DoctorFinder™.