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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.

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 they have some differences. Pacemakers 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 severe coronary heart disease (CHD), 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 CHD, such as angioplasty or coronary artery bypass grafting, also may lower your risk for SCA.

Your doctor also may recommend an ICD if you're at high risk for SCA.

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

CHD seems to be the cause of most SCAs in adults. CHD 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 CHD, SCA, and other heart problems.

Healthy Diet and Physical Activity

A healthy diet is an important part of a 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. 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 for physical activity. Be as physically active as you can.

Some people should get medical advice before starting or increasing physical activity. For example, talk with 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.

For more information about following a healthy diet, go to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute's (NHLBI's) Aim for a Healthy Weight Web site, "Your Guide to a Healthy Heart," and "Your Guide to Lowering Your Blood Pressure With DASH." All of these resources provide general information about healthy eating.

For more information about physical activity, go to the Health Topics Physical Activity and Your Heart article and the NHLBI's "Your Guide to Physical Activity and Your Heart."

Other Lifestyle Changes

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

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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.


 
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.