You have undoubtedly heard of cases where—typically middle-aged men—suddenly lose consciousness and collapse…and often they cannot be saved. Many of these are caused by “sudden cardiac arrest”, which means the heart goes into an erratic rhythm and cannot effectively pump blood.
It has been widely accepted that these people have no symptoms prior to this event, but a study presented November 19 at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Dallas, Texas, concluded that a majority of these men had prior symptoms, and early recognition of these symptoms might save lives.
This sort of sudden collapse can rarely occur in young people too, sometimes while they are playing sports or exercising in the gym, but a great majority of cases involve men who are middle-aged or older. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs two or three times more frequently in men than in women.
The researchers, lead by Dr. Sumeet Chugh, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (Los Angeles, California) found, in their study of 567 middle-aged men, that 53 percent had suspicious symptoms within a month of their cardiac arrest.
Fifty-six percent had chest pain, 13 percent shortness of breath, 4% experienced dizziness, fainting, or heart palpitations, and 10% noted flu-type symptoms. In 21% of the cases, these symptoms occurred within an hour before the cardiac arrest, but in 79% of cases, the symptoms occurred over an hour and up to a month before the event.
The major preventable risk factor for cardiac arrest is coronary heart disease, in which there is some obstruction or blockage within the blood vessels that supply the heart itself. Note that cardiac arrest is different than a “heart attack” which is a sudden more complete blockage or one or more of these vessels.
In cardiac arrest, the electric system of the heart fails, and treatment typically requires a defibrillator device to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. Unfortunately though, most people suffer a cardiac arrest far from one of these devices (typically found in hospitals and ambulances), so they cannot be saved. However, there is a push in many countries to make these defibrillators available in more public places to allow more victims of cardiac arrest to survive.
You might talk to your doctor to see if you are at risk of cardiac arrest, and what you can do about it. The best preventative is to keep your heart muscle and blood vessels healthy, and we are constantly giving hints here in Mais Saúde how to do that….ways to exercise more efficiently and how to eat healthier!
Particularly if you a person at higher risk of cardiac arrest, you should be aware of the warning symptoms we mentioned. If you think you might be suffering warning symptoms, you need to seek health care right away.
This current research study was performed only in men but the same researchers are now performing this same study in women (Dr. Chugh notes “Women are different in so many ways”). We will keep you updated!
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