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Tips To Be Fit: Getting To The Heart Of High-Risk Cardiac Ailments

Getting to the heart of high-risk cardiac ailments

Sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack are two distinct conditions, although a recent survey conducted by the Heart Rhythm Society found that more than 70 percent of Americans believe they are the same. A heart attack, however, is the most common cause of SCA in older adults. Here’s what you should know.

SCA accounts for more than 350,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, making it one of the leading causes of death in this country. 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 mainly because immediate treatment is not provided.

SCA occurs when the heart suddenly stops pumping blood throughout the body due to a glitch in the heart’s electrical system. The heart enters an abnormal rhythm, known as ventricular fibrillation, in which the heart muscles twitch or quiver but do not beat.

A heart attack occurs when a blocked blood vessel disrupts blood flow to the heart, resulting in an area of dead heart muscle. Throughout a heart attack, the heart usually continues beating normally.

During SCA, the patient collapses without warning and is completely unresponsive, which is what makes it so frightening. Left untreated, SCA can cause irreversible brain damage and death within minutes.

By contrast, victims of a heart attack commonly have symptoms such as crushing chest pain, shortness of breath, a racing heart, dizziness, lightheadedness, sweating and nausea or vomiting. And they generally remain conscious and responsive through the event.

Not surprisingly, heart disease is the major risk factor for both heart attack and SCA. For many people who experience SCA, the heart disease is silent, meaning that it has produced no signs or symptoms and often goes undiagnosed and untreated prior to SCA. In fact, more than 75 percent of people who die of SCA show signs of having had a previous, undiagnosed heart attack. The chances of having SCA are highest during the first six months following a heart attack.

A life-threatening heart problems usually develops in a person with pre-existing conditions, such as:

Coronary artery disease: Most cases of sudden cardiac arrest occur in people who have coronary artery disease. In coronary artery disease, your arteries become clogged with cholesterol and other deposits, reducing blood flow to your heart. This can make it harder for your heart to conduct electrical impulses smoothly.

Heart attack: If a heart attack occurs, often as a result of severe coronary artery disease, it can trigger ventricular fibrillation and sudden cardiac arrest. In addition, a heart attack can leave behind areas of scar tissue. Electrical short circuits around the scar tissue can lead to abnormalities in your heart rhythm.

Enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy): This occurs primarily when your heart’s muscular walls stretch and enlarge or thicken. In both cases, your heart’s muscle is abnormal, a condition that often leads to heart tissue damage and potential arrhythmias.

Valvular heart disease: Leaking or narrowing of your heart valves can lead to stretching or thickening of your heart muscle or both. When the chambers become enlarged or weakened because of stress caused by a tight or leaking valve, there’s an increased risk of developing arrhythmia.

Congenital heart disease: When sudden cardiac arrest occurs in children or adolescents, it may be due to a heart condition that was present at birth (congenital heart disease). Even adults who’ve had corrective surgery for a congenital heart defect still have a higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Electrical problems in the heart: In some people, the problem is in the heart’s electrical system itself instead of a problem with the heart muscle or valves. These are called primary heart rhythm abnormalities and include conditions such as Brugada’s syndrome and long QT syndrome

The same factors that put you at risk of coronary artery disease may also put you at risk of sudden cardiac arrest. These include:

  • A family history of coronary artery disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Drinking too much alcohol (more than two drinks a day)
  • A previous episode of cardiac arrest or a family history of cardiac arrest
  • A previous heart attack
  • A personal or family history of other forms of heart disease, such as heart rhythm disorders, congenital heart defects, heart failure and cardiomyopathy
  • Age — the incidence of sudden cardiac arrest increases with age
  • Being male — men are two to three times more likely to experience sudden cardiac arrest
  • Using illegal drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Nutritional imbalance, such as low potassium or magnesium levels

What you can do in cases of cardiac problems — be prepared. Whether it’s SCA or a heart attack, call 911 immediately. When your heart stops, the lack of oxygen in the blood can cause brain damage in a few minutes. Death or permanent brain damage can occur in four to six minutes.

Time is critical when you’re helping an unconscious person who isn’t breathing. Take immediate action that should include:

Call for medical help: Call 911, or the emergency number in your area, if you encounter someone who has collapsed or is found unresponsive. If the unconscious person is a child and you’re alone, administer CPR, or chest compressions only, for two minutes before calling 911 or emergency medical help or before using a portable defibrillator.

Perform CPR: Quickly check the unconscious person’s breathing. If he or she isn’t breathing normally, begin CPR. Push hard and fast on the person’s chest at the rate of 100 to 120 compressions a minute. If you’ve been trained in CPR, check the person’s airway and deliver rescue breaths if you have protective gear after every 30 compressions. If you haven’t been trained, just continue chest compressions. Allow the chest to rise completely between compressions. Keep doing this until a portable defibrillator is available or emergency personnel arrive.

Use a portable defibrillator: If you’re not trained to use a portable defibrillator, the unit will give you direction after you turn it on. Deliver one shock if advised by the device and then immediately begin CPR starting with chest compressions, or give chest compressions only, for about two minutes. Continue CPR until the unit advises you it needs to deliver another shock.

Story Credit: http://www.phillytrib.com/news/health/tips-to-be-fit-getting-to-the-heart-of-high/article_04665e2b-4202-594d-b0c2-5cdd43132d58.html