What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)?
Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart stops beating, abruptly and without warning. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. In addition, if the heartbeat is not restored with an electrical shock immediately, death follows within minutes. SCA accounts for more than 350,000 deaths in the U.S. each year.
SCA is one of the leading causes of death in the United States each year. In fact, SCA claims one life every 90 seconds, taking more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS. Unfortunately, 95 percent of people who experience SCA die as a result, mainly because treatment within minutes is not accessible.
SCA versus a Heart Attack
Most people do not know the difference between SCA and a heart attack. Because time is crucial to saving someone who is having a sudden cardiac arrest, it is important to understand the difference.
The heart’s electrical system is what is affected when SCA occurs. During SCA, the heart stops beating and no blood is pumped to the rest of the body. This could be compared to losing electricity in your house. The heart “electricity” must be turned back on, typically through electrical shock.
A heart attack, typically known as a myocardial infarction (MI), affects the “plumbing” of the heart. A heart attack is caused by a blockage in a blood vessel that interrupts the flow of blood causing an area of the heart muscle to die. This causes a “blood backup” in the heart, similar to a backup in a plumbing line in a house. The heart must be “unclogged,” with drug therapy or surgery, in order to continue the blood flow to the rest of the body.
While both cause serious problems and possible death, SCA often occurs abruptly and without warning. In fact, two-thirds of SCA deaths occur without any prior indications of heart disease, while heart attacks often have previous signs and symptoms
The Chain of Survival
Unlike the dramatic resuscitations on TV shows and movies, the grim reality of SCA in the U.S. is that only 8 of 100 victims survive. Yet there is wide variation across the country: 3% in Chicago, 15% in Milwaukee and 46% in Seattle. Why are there differences? 80% of sudden cardiac arrests occur outside of the hospital and that survival is dependent on a series of interventions that must begin immediately at the site of the cardiac arrest, in the ambulance, when the patient arrives at an Emergency Room, and when they are admitted to the hospital.
Delays while waiting for medical personnel to arrive contribute to premature death. Research has led policy experts and scientists to re-evaluate where resources should be allocated in order to create a more comprehensive chain of survival that starts the moment a person has a sudden cardiac arrest until their heart starts pumping on its own again.
In this chain, ordinary citizens are critical providers of care, alongside trained medical personnel. Metropolitan regions such as Seattle, where the majority of residents have been trained in bystander cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) show significantly higher survival rates. And changes to our understanding of the effectiveness of CPR have resulted in its simplification – training can now be taught using a short video on a smartphone app. The new training places utmost importance of sustaining chest compressions and the use of an Automatic External Defibrillator (AED) until paramedics arrive to take over resuscitation efforts.
The chain of survival includes the following links:
In other states where survival rates have steadily risen, training as many citizens as possible in bystander CPR and the use of and AED has resulted in marked improvements in survivability after SCA. In Illinois, Illinois Heart Rescue has trained over 9,000 people, starting with communities that have had high rates of SCA. Make a difference – invite Illinois Heart Rescue to your organization’s next event to train your members!
For first responders. Learn the latest guidelines for a sudden cardiac arrest Incident Command approach to resuscitation including the rules of engagement and roles for your first responder’s team. Join the CAREs data collection collaborative for state-wide report of SCA.
Illinois Heart Rescue can assist your hospital’s Emergency Department establish protocols and procedures for hypothermia after SCA and the assessment for the return of neurological function, including recommendations for prolonging observation periods to longer than 72 hours.
We hear incredible stories just about every week about individuals having an SCA and being fortunate to have had people around them that knew just what to do. Those survivors are excited and passionate about sharing their stories to offer inspiration for others to get trained in basic bystander CPR.