Sudden Cardiac Arrest May Not Be So Sudden After All

Sudden Cardiac Arrest May Not Be So Sudden After All

In spring training 1961, a rookie pitcher took the mound and his blistering fastball earned him the nickname Sudden Sam McDowell. It stuck through his 11 seasons with the Cleveland Indians until the six-time All-star, one-time Pitcher of the Year and Indians’ Player of the decade, flamed out in the early 1970’s.

Turns out it’s all too easy to get knocked off the mound -- even if you don’t think it could happen to you. Just ask the more than 326,200 people a year in North American who fall victim to out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), an unexpected collapse of the heart’s functioning that halts blood flow.

With SCA, a person passes out, gasps for air, and may have a brief seizure. If CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and an AED (automated external defibrillator) are started before EMS arrive, the survival rate is around 38 percent; otherwise it’s 10 percent. 

That sounds pretty scary, but a new study based on data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, reveals SCA may not be as sudden as thought: For almost half of folks affected there are warning signs in the weeks and days before the event -- but only 20 percent seek medical help to evaluate the symptoms.

So whatever your age, pay attention to the clues of a potential SCA; chest pains, trouble breathing, dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea or vomiting. If that sounds like you contact your doc immediately (we’d rather be called too often than not enough) or call 911 and get to the hospital for evaluation.

Medically reviewed in May 2019.

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