About Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA)

What is cardiac arrest and how does it differ from a heart attack

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is when the heart suddenly stops beating properly. The heart may stop beating completely, or it may beat irregularly. The body collapses.  Breathing stops and blood does not flow through the body. Without blood bringing oxygen to organs, like the brain, the body will die in minutes. To have a chance at survival, CPR must be performed immediately to push the oxygenated blood to the organs. An AED should be applied to assess the heart for an abnormal heartbeat. If one is detected, the AED can shock the heart to stop the irregular beat.

Cardiac arrest differs from a heart attack.  A heart attack is said to be a problem with the plumbing of the body. Think of the blood vessels as the pipes of the body, carrying blood throughout.  With a heart attack, one or more blood vessels in the body are clogged and blood cannot flow normally to the heart.  A person may remain awake but may have upper body pain and breathing difficulty. A heart attack can also cause cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest is a problem with the electrical part of the heart.  The electrical signal that causes your heart to beat malfunctions. A person loses consciousness and collapses. 

Risk | Warning | Prevention

Warning Signs

There may be no warning signs before cardiac arrest or you may experience any of the below signs, moments or weeks before
– Fatigue
– Chest pain
– Shortness of breath
– Nausea
– Dizziness or fainting
– Racing, fluttering or pounding heart

Risk Factor/Causes

– Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias)
– Heart disease
– Heart attack
– Blood loss
– Drug use/toxins
– Electrocution
– Drowning
– Electrolyte imbalances


If you see someone collapse or find someone on the ground, and they do not respond to touch or sound
– Call 911
– Begin CPR
– Have someone get an AED

CPR must begin immediately. Some may also need defibrillation (a shock delivered to the heart). An AED can give instructions on how and where to apply the pads. The AED will then assess the heart to see if a shock is needed. Follow the AED instructions. Once responders arrive, they can provide further care.


Leading a heart healthy lifestyle can decrease the likelihood of SCA such as
– Seeing a provider for regular checkups
– Eating a healthy, balanced diet
– Moderately exercising
– Maintaining a healthy weight
– Managing stress
– Not smoking or using recreational drugs
– Limiting alcohol intake


Every minute without CPR decreases a person’s chance of survival by 10%.  Immediate intervention is a matter of life or death, as minutes count. The American Heart Association states that there are six links in the Chain of Survival for cardiac arrest. Bystanders can perform the first three of the six links.


Recognition Of Cardiac Arrest And Activation Of The Emergency Response System

If you find someone lying on the ground or see someone collapse in front of you, and it is safe to do so, check them for responsiveness. Tap their shoulder or shake them gently while shouting, “Are you ok?”. If the person does not move or respond, they are unresponsive. Immediately call 911. Sometimes a person who is unresponsive may also have noisy, irregular or gasping breaths. This is not normal breathing and should be treated as someone who is not breathing.


Early Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) With An Emphasis On Chest Compressions

Experts now advise chest compressions alone, without mouth to mouth rescue breathing, can keep the heart pumping and maintain blood flow until emergency workers arrive. However, compression only CPR is best suited for adults and teens. Press hard and fast in the center of the chest, down at least 2 inches with the full weight of your body. Compressions should be at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes per minute. It may help to think of a song that has the right tempo. “Stayin’ Alive,” by the Bee Gees, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun,” by Cyndi Lauper or “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by the Clash are all within that range.


Rapid Defibrillation, If Indicated

If you know where an automated external defibrillator (AED) is located, have someone go get it. Turn it on and follow the voice prompts. The AED will tell you if a shock is indicated and when CPR should resume.


Advanced Resuscitation By Emergency Medical Services And Other Healthcare Providers


Post-Cardiac Arrest Care


Recovery (Including Additional Treatment, Observation, Rehabilitation, And Psychological Support)

Empowering Survivors of Cardiac Arrest

Join a nurturing community that understands the unique challenges of cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac arrest survivors, providing a safe space to share experiences, seek guidance, and find hope on the journey towards recovery.

As you adjust to life after a sudden cardiac arrest, please know that you are not alone. There are many resources available to help you recover and return to a normal life.

HeartRescue Project’s Life After SCA initiative provides support and information for SCA survivors and their loved ones with the goal of helping them return to living happy, healthy and fulfilled lives.

Coping with a heart or stroke condition can be complex, but your experience can be more manageable when you have the right kind of support, encouragement, guidance, and information.

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