What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is when a person’s heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. It is usually fatal. There are many inherited conditions that are known to cause SCA. These may involve abnormal heart and vessel structure, and/or abnormal heart rhythm. Sometimes it is not possible to identify the cause of a SCA. Most SCAs are the first obvious symptom a person has, although family members, in retrospect, may remember the victim complaining of warning signs such as irregular heartbeats, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, sudden nausea, or unusual fatigue. Individuals with a family history of sudden cardiac arrest may have an inherited condition that puts them at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. A doctor’s evaluation of personal and family history is the best way to begin to identify and treat those at risk.
A person having a SCA needs immediate treatment, following the American Heart Association’s “Chain of Survival.” This includes early recognition of SCA, early call to 9-1-1, early CPR, early use of AED, and early EMS advanced life support.
Every minute that passes without intervention drastically reduces the chance of survival!
The following questions target signs of inherited conditions that cause SCA.
Suggested personal and family history questions from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Have you ever passed out or nearly passed out DURING or AFTER exercise?
- Have you ever had discomfort, pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest during exercise?
- Does your heart ever race or skip beats (lrregular beats) during exercise?
- Has a doctor ever told you that you have any heart problems (high blood pressure, high
cholesterol, a heart murmur, a heart infection, Kawasaki disease, or other)?
- Has a doctor ever ordered a test for your heart (for example, ECG/EKG or echocardiogram)?
- Do you get lightheaded or feel more short of breath than expected during exercise?
- Have you ever had an unexplained seizure?
- Do you get more tired or short of breath more quickly than your friends during exercise?
- Has any family member or relative died of heart problems or had any unexpected or
unexplained sudden death before age 50 (including drowning, unexplained car accident, or
- Does anyone in your family have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Marfan syndrome,
arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiornyopathy, long QT syndronie, short QT syndronie,
Brugada syndrome, or cateholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia?
- Does anyone in your family have a heart problem, pacemaker or implanted defibrillator?
- Has anyone in your family had unexplained fainting, unexplained seizures, or near drowning?
American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics et al. Preparticipation Physical Evaluation. Fourth Edition. 2010.
Learn additional information on the following conditions:
- Marfan Syndrome
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Cardiomyopathy, Long QT syndrome, Short QT syndrome, Brugada syndrome, Cateholaminergic Polymorphic Ventricular Tachycardia
For more information about SCA and SCDY, please see the following links:
Identification and Treatment of Sudden Cardiac Death Conditions in Young Patients. (presentation) David Bradley, MD.
Identification Genetic Risk in Surviving Family Members. (presentation) Angela Trepanier, MS, CGC.
Sudden Cardiac Death of the Young: Epidemiology. (presentation) Beth Anderson, MDCH Genomics Epidemiologist.
“Can Sudden Cardiac Death of the Young Be Prevented? A Michigan Story on Lessons Learned and Action Steps to Take.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC)