You know how to recognize Sudden Cardiac Arrest and the steps to take in case of a cardiac emergency, but what if you are the one at risk? 

To understand Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) risk factors it is necessary to understand some basic cardiac physiology. The heart is composed of muscle which contracts to pump blood, blood vessels which feed the heart muscle, and an internal electrical system which organizes and regulates the heart’s contractions. Impairment of heart muscle is called congestive heart failure. Impaired flow through the blood vessels results in ischemia or “heart attack.”  Dysfunction of the electrical system leads to heartbeat irregularities ranging from minor extra beats to Sudden Cardiac Arrest.   

There are two primary risk factors for Sudden Cardiac Arrest. The first is simply genetics. Some individuals are born with abnormalities in the electrical system of their hearts that make them more likely to suffer SCA. Most of these individuals are unaware of this increased risk as it generally produces no symptoms until the moment of arrest. These genetic conditions, however, can generally be detected on a routine EKG. The second risk factor is medication. Many commonly prescribed medications can alter or sensitize the cardiac electrical system making it more prone to SCA. 

Most cases of SCA, however, are secondary to some other medical condition, the two most common of which are congestive heart failure and cardiac ischemia which are outlined above.  If a patient has heart failure, the heart muscle and the electrical system it contains are stretched and distorted in ways that increase the likelihood of SCA.  Similarly, if the heart muscle is not receiving adequate blood flow from the blood vessels in the heart, as occurs with a heart attack, the heart muscle and the heart’s electrical system are damaged. The damage to the electrical system then leads to SCA.   

Addressing risk factors for SCA involves screening for genetic predisposition, mitigating the risks caused by medications, and, most importantly, pursing a heart healthy lifestyle to prevent the development of congestive heart failure or ischemic heart disease.  

To celebrate American Heart Month, we encourage you, and your children, to get checked with a routine EKG, talk to your physician about any medication risks and talk to those around you to spread the word about Sudden Cardiac Arrest. Everyone can make a difference in creating a Culture of First Responders™. 

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