Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is what happens when the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly. When a doctor states that a patient has “gone into Sudden Cardiac Arrest”, it means that, out of nowhere, the patient’s heart has stopped pumping blood. If not treated within minutes, SCA results in death. The normal rhythm of the heart can only be restored with defibrillation, an electrical shock that is safely delivered to the chest by an automated external defibrillator (AED).
The conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death fall into two categories: structural and electrical. A structural heart defect, like cardiomyopathy, prevents the heart from working properly – the heart is too big or the parts are in the wrong places. An electrical heart defect, like Long QT Syndrome, interrupts the heart’s rhythm. SCA can also occur secondary to other conditions such as impact to the chest, heat stroke, asthma, drowning, electrocution, allergic reaction or medication.
Many people think that SCA is an adult thing, but that’s just not true. SCA is the #1 killer of student athletes. It is also responsible for up to 15% of all sudden infant deaths.
The good news is that most of the conditions leading to SCA are detectable and treatable.
Here are three ways to protect your child:
- Make sure that your family doctor takes a complete medical history of your family.
- Attend a heart screening or ask your family doctor to give your child an ECG exam.
- Watch for symptoms and warning signs. If you see any, talk to your doctor and consult with a pediatric cardiologist.
Although SCA happens unexpectedly, some children may have signs or symptoms, such as:
- Fainting or seizures during exercise
- Unexplained shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Chest pains
- Racing heart
If someone collapses and is not responsive, you should:
- Call 911 — Have them send help. Stay on the line and listen for further instructions.
- Start chest compressions — If the person is not breathing normally, start chest compressions. Push down hard and fast in the center of the chest. Keep your arms straight. Compressions should be given at 100 compressions per minute (to the beat of the Bee Gees song, Staying Alive).
- Send someone to retrieve an AED (automated external defibrillator), if one is available at your location. The AED is a portable medical device that delivers an electrical shock to restart a person’s heart. It provides voice prompts that tell you exactly what to do and will only administer a shock if needed, so there’s no reason to hesitate.
For more information:
- PA Department of Health SCA information page
- Simon’s Fund – Info on heart screenings for children
- Heart Rescue Now – What to do in case of SCA