Did you know that October is National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness month? Do you even know what constitutes sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)? My assumption (wrongly so I might add), was that SCA and heart attack were cut from the same cloth (that is, they’re one and the same). In the informal survey I conducted of family and friends, I discovered that this misconception was prevalent (which only serves to highlight the need to raise public awareness regarding SCA). As it turns out, we have plenty of company. According to the Heart Rhythm Society, 70 percent of Americans share the same belief that heart attack and SCA are related.
The Heart Rhythm Society is the driving force behind the designation of October as the National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness month. One of their initiatives is the “Apples and Oranges” campaign which is focused on providing information and education regarding SCA risk factors, lifestyle, and understanding the difference between SCA and heart attack. The Heart Rhythm Society hosts numerous events and seminars throughout the year in support of the Apples and Oranges campaign and their educational goals.
SCA and heart attack are fundamentally different - both in their symptoms and underlying causes. When a person suffers a heart attack, the blood flow through the coronary artery is actually blocked. Heart attacks are generally accompanied by symptoms such as pain, nausea, shortness of breath, and so on, that provide a warning signal that something is wrong. Those advance warning signs often make the difference between life and death.
SCA, on the other hand, isn’t caused by a blockage. In SCA, the heart simply stops beating. Imagine for a moment that your heart is an electrical current which provides power to your house. If someone pulls the breaker to the off position, the power flow is disrupted and all power to your house is lost - no lights, no TV, no air conditioning. The results are instantaneous from the moment the breaker is pulled. SCA functions the same way: the switch is moved to the off position and the heart malfunctions, loses power, and immediately stops. The person loses consciousness and stops breathing. Without swift intervention, SCA is almost always fatal. (Heart attack survivors are at a greater risk of SCA than the general population and should take extra care to know their risk factors).
SCA is a more serious condition than many realize. In the United States alone, SCA kills 250,000 people each year, or to put it in perspective, someone dies of SCA every two minutes. That’s more than AIDS, lung or breast cancer combined. Unlike a heart attack, there is generally no time to wait for emergency services or get the victim to a hospital. Persons suffering an SCA even need immediate intervention in the form of either manual CPR or the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
Think Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a Heart Attack? That’s like comparing apples and oranges, Heart Rhythm Society, 04 Oct 2010, http://www.hrsonline.org/news/sca-awareness/index.cfm
Richard L. Page, MD,
Sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack: comparing apples and oranges, Cardiovascular Health, Sept 2010, http://www.hrsonline.org/News/SCA-awareness/upload/Full-Cardiovascular-Health-Report-FINAL.pdf
Heart Attack, Mayo Clinic, 20 Nov 2009, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/heart-attack/DS00094/DSECTION=symptoms
Sudden Cardiac Arrest, Mayo Clinic, 22 Jul 2010, http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sudden-cardiac-arrest/DS00764