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Learn About SCA


What is SCA?

SCA stands for sudden cardiac arrest. SCA is the sudden cessation of the effective pumping action of the heart. The normal heartbeat stops, and is most frequently replaced with an irregular, useless twitching state of the muscles of the heart’s chambers, called the ventricles. This heart rhythm is called ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia. Consequently, blood and oxygen are no longer circulating to the brain and body.

How is SCA different than a heart attack?

Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when there is interruption of blood flow to a portion of the heart, and that part of the heart starts to die due to a lack of oxygen. The majority of heart attacks are due to a blockage in one of the arteries that supplies blood to a specific area of the heart. A heart attack victim will usually be able to talk and respond to bystanders. If a heart attack occurs, it can trigger ventricular fibrillation and SCA. More than 80% of cases of SCA occur in people who have significant heart disease.

What is the first sign of SCA?

The first thing someone will do when they experience SCA is pass out. They will also stop breathing normally, although they may be gasping or moaning. Since the victim is no longer getting blood and oxygen to the brain, they have only 4-6 minutes before they will start to experience brain damage, and soon after that, brain death. For each minute that passes without oxygen being delivered to the brain and body, there is an incremental 10% decrease in the chance of survival.

How is SCA treated?

The majority of SCA is due to erratic, twitching heart behavior, and the definitive treatment for that is defibrillation. Defibrillation means delivering a high-dose electrical shock that stops the heart from quivering and allows it to regain a normal heart rhythm. This shock must be administered quickly, before the brain begins to die. With fire and ambulance response times being anywhere from 4 to 20 minutes (depending on location), having access to early defibrillation is the key to surviving SCA.

How can AEDs in our community help SCA?

Currently, only 7 out of every 100 Americans (5%) who experience SCA survive. SCA kills more Americans each year than breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, and AIDS combined. Approximately 900 Americans die each day due to complications from SCA. In places with strong AED programs and CPR training (such as the Las Vegas casinos), survival rates jump to over 70%. Communities with strong CPR training programs (such as Rochester, Minnesota), place AEDs in police cars and at local parks, recreation centers, schools, and sporting fields – resulting in survival rates as high as 43%. Access to early defibrillation and knowing CPR has been proven to save lives.

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