Cardiovascular Services

Sudden Cardiac Arrest | Sudden Cardiac Death

Sudden cardiac arrest is a medical emergency requiring CPR or a defibrillator. Sudden cardiac arrest is not a heart attack. It is loss of heart function. Get help fast. Emergency care must happen right away.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac death is the greatest cause of natural death in the U.S. It is sudden death from loss of heart function, or cardiac arrest. The primary symptoms are loss of consciousness and breathing. The patient needs immediate care to survive.

What causes sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac death usually occurs when there is an electrical problem with the heart. About half of all heart disease deaths are due to sudden cardiac death. But sudden cardiac death is not a heart attack. Sudden cardiac death happens when the heart beat changes. The heart beats very fast and the rhythm is not normal, which is called arrhythmia. Emergency treatment needs to begin right away.

Cardiovascular screening for young athletes

The American Heart Association recommends that high school and college athletes have a complete physical exam, including a cardiovascular screening. An electrocardiogram can detect heart disease in some young athletes. A doctor also may recommend an exercise stress test.

Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms

People may have no symptoms with the onset of sudden cardiac arrest. When there are symptoms, they should not be ignored. Sudden cardiac arrest symptoms are:

  • Racing heart

  • Dizziness

  • Heart beat that feels erratic

  • Heart beat does not feel normal

Sudden cardiac arrest risks

Some medical conditions put people more at risk of cardiac arrest. They include:

  • Heart attack history

  • Recovering from a heart attack, or the first six months after a heart attack

  • Coronary artery disease

  • Family history of heart disease

  • High cholesterol

  • Hypertension

  • Diabetes

Other factors that put people at more risk of sudden cardiac arrest:

  • Smoking

  • Obesity

  • Drug abuse

It is important to try to reduce your risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Talk to your provider about taking steps to quit smoking, eat a healthy diet and get exercise. Your provider may prescribe medications to treat certain medical conditions. Follow the directions for taking the medication.

Sudden cardiac arrest treatment

Call 911, if you see someone who is having sudden cardiac arrest. Start CPR. If done right, CPR can save the person’s life. CPR keeps blood and oxygen moving through the body until emergency help can arrive.

Use a defibrillation device if there is one available. With CPR and defibrillation, a person can be saved from sudden cardiac death.

Patients who survive sudden cardiac arrest will undergo tests to find the root cause. Tests may include:

  • Electrocardiogram
  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray and other imaging tests
  • Electrical system testing (electrophysiological test)
  • Angiogram

Cardiac Rehabilitation

Cardiac rehab can help people with heart issues reduce their risk of future heart problems. If you have experienced a heart event or surgery, talk to your doctor about participation in a cardiac rehab program.

Provider Referrals

If you are a provider who would like to refer a patient for MaineHealth cardiovascular disease prevention services, please review our clinical guidelines and call 207-885-9905.