McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine faculty member Joon Sup Lee, MD, and the American Heart Association urge the public to be prepared for cardiac emergencies. "The unfortunate fact is that we have become very good at treating heart disease once you have reached medical care. But, the majority of people who die, die before they reach medical care," said Dr. Lee, clinical director of the Cardiovascular Institute at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
Cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. The victim may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. It's also called sudden cardiac arrest or unexpected cardiac arrest. Sudden death (also called sudden cardiac death) occurs within minutes after symptoms appear.
Symptoms of a cardiac arrest include:
- Squeezing, heavy chest pain, especially with:
- Exercise or exertion
- Emotional stress
- Cold weather
- A large meal
- Pain in the left shoulder, left arm, or jaw
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating, clammy skin
- Loss of consciousness
- Anxiety , especially feeling a sense of doom or panic without apparent reason
Unusual symptoms of heart attack (may occur more frequently in women):
- Stomach pain
- Back and shoulder pain
Per Dr. Lee, "If you're having symptoms, and they persist for more than a few minutes, seek medical care. If you wait, you may never make it to the hospital. If you look at people who died suddenly, they often had symptoms but ignored them."
The most common underlying reason for patients to die suddenly from cardiac arrest is coronary heart disease. Most cardiac arrests that lead to sudden death occur when the electrical impulses in the diseased heart become rapid (ventricular tachycardia) or chaotic (ventricular fibrillation) or both. This irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. Some cardiac arrests are due to extreme slowing of the heart. This is called bradycardia.
Other factors besides heart disease and heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. They include respiratory arrest, electrocution, drowning, choking, and trauma. Cardiac arrest can also occur without any known cause.
Illustration: © 2008 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.
Washington Post (09/13/08)
American Heart Association
UPMC Health A to Z: Heart Attack
UPMC Cardiology Services
Bio: Joon Sup Lee, MD