The heart has an internal electrical system that controls the rhythm of the heartbeat. Problems can cause abnormal heart rhythms, called arrhythmias. There are many types of arrhythmia. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or it can stop beating. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart develops an arrhythmia that causes it to stop beating. This is different than a heart attack, where the heart usually continues to beat but blood flow to the heart is blocked.
There are many possible causes of SCA. They include coronary heart disease, physical stress, and some inherited disorders. Sometimes there is no known cause for the SCA.
Without medical attention, the person will die within a few minutes. People are less likely to die if they have early defibrillation. Defibrillation sends an electric shock to restore the heart rhythm to normal. You should give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to a person having SCA until defibrillation can be done.
If you have had an SCA, an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) reduces the chance of dying from a second SCA.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Prevention and Risk Factors
- Catheter Ablation (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) Also in Spanish
- Causes of Cardiac Arrest (American Heart Association)
- Warning Signs of Heart Attack, Stroke and Cardiac Arrest (American Heart Association)
Treatments and Therapies
- Automated External Defibrillators: Do You Need an AED? (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
- CPR: MedlinePlus Health Topic (National Library of Medicine) Also in Spanish
- Defibrillators (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Coronary Artery Anomalies (Texas Heart Institute) Also in Spanish
- Heart Attack or Sudden Cardiac Arrest: How Are They Different? (American Heart Association)
- How Devices in Public Places Can Restart Hearts (Food and Drug Administration) Also in Spanish
- Ventricular Fibrillation (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish
Journal Articles References and abstracts from MEDLINE/PubMed (National Library of Medicine)
- Article: Increased Home Death Due to Cardiopulmonary Arrest in Times of COVID-19...
- Article: Effects of COVID-19 on in-hospital cardiac arrest: incidence, causes, and outcome...
- Article: Cardiac arrest in COVID-19: characteristics and outcomes of in- and out-of-hospital...
- Cardiac Arrest -- see more articles
- How the Heart Works (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)
- Sudden Death in Young People--Heart Problems Often Blamed (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research) Also in Spanish