Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. According to the American Red Cross, nearly 300,000 Americans lose their lives to SCA each year. That’s almost 800 Americans per day — one death nearly every two minutes.
To put that number in perspective, approximately 90,000 more lives are lost to SCA every year than to lung cancer and breast cancer combined.
The Difference Between SCA and a Heart Attack
SCA is not the same thing as a heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when a blockage stops the flow of blood to the heart. SCA is caused by a malfunction in the heart’s electrical system, due to irregular heart rhythms. (The most common form of abnormal heart rhythm is known as “ventricular fibrillation.”) When the heart’s normal rhythm becomes erratic, the chambers of the heart stop working properly together, and the heart stops pumping blood to the brain and other critical organs.
While a heart attack can trigger sudden cardiac arrest, it’s important to understand why they’re different. In a SCA emergency, brain death and permanent death start to take place within just a few minutes. The only chance of survival is to quickly restore a normal heart beat through CPR and a defibrillator.
Who SCA Affects
Sudden cardiac arrest strikes men, women, and children of all ages, and when it hits, every minute counts. If you’re able to apply CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) within the first minute of a sudden cardiac arrest, your victim’s chance for survival is close to 90 percent. SCA can affect anyone, regardless of gender, race and age. It can even affect people who appear to be healthy, such as children and young athletes.
According to a study that was published by the Annals of Emergency Medicine in December 1999, approximately 16,000 children under the age of 17 die every year due to unexpected pediatric cardiopulmonary arrest — a condition that could be treated by an AED. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) estimates that approximately 50 young athletes lose their lives to sudden cardiac arrest every year.
With this said, there are certain factors that can drive up the risk of SCA, including:
- Family history of early heart disease, heart attacks or cardiac arrest.
- Cardiac risk factors, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes or smoking.
- Age. When men turn 45, their incidences of SCA increase. For women, it’s age 55.
- Gender. Men are up to three times more likely to experience SCA than women.
Warning Signs to Watch for…
Generally, SCA strikes without any warning. The signs are sudden and extreme.
According to the American Heart Association, the three main signs are:
- Immediate loss of consciousness. Victims may abruptly collapse, and they don’t respond to you tapping them on their shoulders.
- Loss of normal breathing.
- Loss of pulse and blood pressure.
If you are with other adults when you observe a victim experience these signs, you should advise someone to call 9-1-1 and get the automated external defibrillator as fast as possible. You should begin CPR immediately.
If you are alone, you should call 9-1-1, get your automated external defibrillator, begin CPR, and use the defibrillator.
How to Determine if Your Location Is at High Risk for SCA
Early in the 2000s, the University of Washington conducted a Public Access to Defibrillation Study. The researchers developed the formula below to determine whether a community has a high probability of having a sudden cardiac arrest incident.
To determine your risk:
- Take the number of individuals at a particular location and multiply this number by the percentage of individuals age 50 or over.
- Multiply this number by the average number of hours spent at the location each day.
- Multiply this number by 350 if the location is residential or by 250 if the location is non-residential.
The resulting number equals the number of exposure hours you have. If your number is 600,000 or higher, your location has a high probability of SCA. (Locations with 1.4 million exposure hours per year may experience .48 cardiac arrests per year.)
Think about your location and consider:
- If someone collapses at your location, could it take EMS five minutes or more to arrive at your victim’s side and begin treatment?
- Do you have a high percentage of 50+ year olds or other high-risk individuals on site?
- Are you responsible for the safety of the people on your site?
If you’ve answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to take action. This website contains life-saving resources that can help prepare you for the race against the clock, including:
- Educational information on sudden cardiac arrest and AEDs. To help you feel more prepared for a sudden cardiac arrest emergency, we’ve assembled educational information from leading organizations in emergency medical aid and workplace safety. Our sources include the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association, and OSHA.
- AED and CPR training classes. Through links to the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association, you’ll find easy access to online and in-person training classes.
- AED and first aid products. You can buy Philips HeartStart AEDs individually or as part of our Safety Kits. Philips HeartStart AEDs are the best automated external defibrillators on the market, thanks to their ease of use, track record for performance and reliability, and strong value over a five-year period.
- Safety Kits for work, life, or sport. Safety Kits set a whole new standard for first aid kits. They meet the first aid standards set forth by the American Red Cross. In addition, they are fully equipped with Philips HeartStart AEDs, so you’re better prepared for a sudden cardiac arrest emergency.
Additional Life-Saving Resources about SCA
Sudden cardiac arrest fact sheet (Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association)
Symptoms & emergency treatment of sudden cardiac arrest (American Heart Association)
Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest (Mayo Clinic)
Download a copy of
Seven Reasons to Invest in an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)