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What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs.

SCA usually causes death if it's not treated within minutes.

Overview

To understand SCA, it helps to understand how the heart works. The heart has an electrical system that controls the rate and rhythm of the heartbeat. Problems with the heart's electrical system can cause irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias (ah-RITH-me-ahs).

There are many types of arrhythmias. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or with an irregular rhythm. Some arrhythmias can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body—these arrhythmias cause SCA.

SCA is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs if blood flow to part of the heart muscle is blocked. During a heart attack, the heart usually doesn't suddenly stop beating. SCA, however, may happen after or during recovery from a heart attack.

People who have heart disease are at higher risk for SCA. However, SCA can happen in people who appear healthy and have no known heart disease or other risk factors for SCA.

Outlook

Most people who have SCA die from it—often within minutes. Rapid treatment of SCA with a defibrillator can be lifesaving. A defibrillator is a device that sends an electric shock to the heart to try to restore its normal rhythm.

Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be used by bystanders to save the lives of people who are having SCA. These portable devices often are found in public places, such as shopping malls, golf courses, businesses, airports, airplanes, casinos, convention centers, hotels, sports venues, and schools.

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Sudden Cardiac Arrest Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Sudden Cardiac Arrest, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


Sudden Cardiac Arrest in the News

October 24, 2013
NIH and CDC launch registry for sudden death in the young
A registry of deaths in young people from conditions such as heart disease and epilepsy is being created to help researchers define the scope of the problem and set future research priorities. The National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are collaborating to create the Sudden Death in the Young Registry.

View all Sudden Cardiac Arrest Press Releases

 
April 01, 2011 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.