Sudden Cardiac Death Prevention

How Can Death Due to Sudden Cardiac Arrest Be Prevented?

Ways to prevent death due to sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) differ depending on whether:

  • You've already had SCA
  • You've never had SCA but are at high risk for the condition
  • You've never had SCA and have no known risk factors for the condition

For People Who Have Survived Sudden Cardiac Arrest

If you've already had SCA, you're at high risk of having it again. Research shows that an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chances of dying from a second SCA.

An ICD is surgically placed under the skin in your chest or abdomen. The device has wires with electrodes on the ends that connect to your heart's chambers. The ICD monitors your heartbeat.

If the ICD detects a dangerous heart rhythm, it gives an electric shock to restore the heart's normal rhythm. Your doctor may give you medicine to limit irregular heartbeats that can trigger the ICD.

Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator

The illustration shows the location of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator in the upper chest. The electrodes are inserted into the heart through a vein.

An ICD isn't the same as a pacemaker. The devices are similar, but have some differences. Pacemakers only give off low-energy electrical pulses. They're often used to treat less dangerous heart rhythms, such as those that occur in the upper chambers of the heart. Most new ICDs work as both pacemakers and ICDs.

For People at High Risk for a First Sudden Cardiac Arrest

If you have had heart damage and have a low EF, or ejection fraction, you are at increased risk for SCA. The EF is the amount, or percentage of blood entering the heart that is pumped out with each beat.

For patients with low EF who are felt to be at high risk for SCA, an ICD is often recommended. For certain subgroups of patients, the ICD has been shown to decrease risk of SCA significantly.

If you have severe coronary artery disease (CAD), you're at increased risk for SCA. This is especially true if you've recently had a heart attack.

Your doctor may prescribe a type of medicine called a beta blocker to help lower your risk for SCA. Other treatments for CAD, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, also may lower your risk for SCA.

Your doctor also may recommend an ICD if your risk for SCA is very high.

For People Who Have No Known Risk Factors for Sudden Cardiac Arrest

CAD seems to be the cause of most cases of SCA in adults. CAD also is a major risk factor for angina (chest pain or discomfort) and heart attack, and it contributes to other heart problems.

Following a healthy lifestyle can help you lower your risk for CAD, SCA, and other heart problems.

Healthy Diet and Physical Activity

A healthy diet is an important part of a heart healthy lifestyle. Choose a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains; half of your grains should come from whole-grain products.

Choose foods that are low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol. Healthy choices include lean meats, poultry without skin, fish, beans, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products.

Choose and prepare foods with little sodium (salt). Too much salt can raise your risk for high blood pressure. Recent studies show that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) eating plan can lower blood pressure.

Choose foods and beverages that are low in added sugar. If you drink alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation.

Aim for a healthy weight by staying within your daily calorie needs. Balance the calories you take in with the calories you use while doing physical activity. Be as physically active as you can.

Some people should get medical advice before starting or increasing physical activity. For example, talk to your doctor if you have a chronic (ongoing) health problem, are on medicine, or have symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness. Your doctor can suggest types and amounts of physical activity that are safe for you.

Other Lifestyle Changes

Other lifestyle changes also can help lower your risk for SCA. Examples include:

  • Quitting smoking. Talk to your doctor about programs and products that can help you quit. Also, try to avoid secondhand smoke.
  • Losing weight if you're overweight or obese.
  • Treating other health problems, such as high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes.

Information provided by National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

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  Atrial fibrillation
  Supraventricular tachycardia
  Ventricular tachycardia
  Sudden cardiac death prevention
  Sudden cardiac arrest
  Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome
  Heart arrhythmias
  Heart rhythm disturbances
  Congestive heart failure