Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is an emergency. A person having SCA needs to be treated with a defibrillator right away. This device sends an electric shock to the heart. The electric shock can restore a normal rhythm to a heart that's stopped beating.
To work well, defibrillation must be done within minutes of SCA. With every minute that passes, the chances of surviving SCA drop rapidly.
Police, emergency medical technicians, and other first responders usually are trained and equipped to use a defibrillator. Call 9–1–1 right away if someone has signs or symptoms of SCA. The sooner you call for help, the sooner lifesaving treatment can begin.
Automated External Defibrillators
Automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are special defibrillators that untrained bystanders can use. 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.
AEDs are programmed to give an electric shock if they detect a dangerous arrhythmia, such as ventricular fibrillation. This prevents giving a shock to someone who may have fainted but isn't having SCA.
You should give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a person having SCA until defibrillation can be done.
People who are at risk for SCA may want to consider having an AED at home. Currently, one AED, the Phillips HeartStart Home Defibrillator, is sold over-the-counter for home use.
A 2008 study by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the National Institutes of Health found that AEDs in the home are safe and effective. However, the benefits of home-use AEDs are still debated.
Some people feel that placing these devices in homes will save many lives because many SCAs occur at home.
Others note that no evidence supports the idea that home-use AEDs save more lives. These people fear that people who have AEDs in their homes will delay calling for help during an emergency. They're also concerned that people who have home-use AEDs will not properly maintain the devices or forget where they are.
When considering a home-use AED, talk with your doctor. He or she can help you decide whether having an AED in your home will benefit you.
Treatment in a Hospital
If you survive SCA, you'll likely be admitted to a hospital for ongoing care and treatment. In the hospital, your medical team will closely watch your heart. They may give you medicines to try to reduce the risk of another SCA.
While in the hospital, your medical team will try to find out what caused your SCA. If you're diagnosed with coronary heart disease, you may have percutaneous coronary intervention or coronary artery bypass grafting. These procedures help restore blood flow through narrowed or blocked coronary arteries.
Often, people who have SCA get a device called an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This small device is surgically placed under the skin in your chest or abdomen. An ICD uses electric pulses or shocks to help control dangerous arrhythmias. (For more information, go to "How Can Death Due to Sudden Cardiac Arrest Be Prevented?")