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Sudden cardiac arrest is a quickly occurring, life-threatening emergency that can affect anyone—from seemingly healthy teen athletes to seniors. During cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system malfunctions, causing a dangerously fast or irregular heart rhythm. If the heart stops and fails to pump oxygenated blood throughout the body, it can be fatal. Here’s what you need to know about this condition to help you and the people around you respond during an emergency situation.

What causes sudden cardiac arrest?

A number of underlying heart conditions, medications, and drugs can cause cardiac arrest, including:

Understanding the causes of cardiac arrest can help you quickly identify an emergency if the warning signs are present.

What are the symptoms of cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is just that, sudden. Because of this, you must know what the symptoms are and how to recognize them. Signs include:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness. There is no response when you ask if they’re okay or tap on their shoulders.
  • Abnormal breathing. There may be only gasps of air or no breathing at all.
  • Lack of pulse. During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating.

In the event a person exhibits these symptoms, you must act quickly.

How do you respond to sudden cardiac arrest?

If you suspect someone is in cardiac arrest, follow these steps:

  1. Check for responsiveness. Approach the person, ask them if they are okay, and tap them to see if they respond. If they don’t move, speak, blink, or react, they are unresponsive, and you should follow through with the rest of the steps.
  2. Tell someone around you to call 911 and another to get an AED. If you are alone, dial 911 first and then follow instructions from the dispatcher.
  3. Check for breathing. If the person is gasping or not breathing at all, give CPR.
  4. To administer CPR, push hard and fast. Push down 2 inches on the center of the chest. Push fast and controlled at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes a minute, and let the chest resume a normal position after each push.
  5. Use an AED. If a person provides an AED, turn it on and follow the instructions for use.
  6. Keep pushing. Keep giving CPR until the person starts breathing or a medical professional takes over.

Sudden cardiac arrest claims the lives of 475,000 Americans every year. The more you know about the condition, the more prepared you will be to handle an emergency. Talk with your family about cardiac arrest warning signs, plan ahead, and locate your closest St. Luke’s Health emergency center.


AHA | About Cardiac Arrest

AHA | Understand Your Risk for Cardiac Arrest

AHA | Warning Signs and Emergency Treatment of Cardiac Arrest

Medtronic | Public Relations Toolkit Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

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