Sudden Cardiac Death

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Human heart

Q1: What is sudden cardiac death?
Sudden cardiac death is a condition where a person dies because of the abrupt and unexpected cardiac arrest, and is devastating for the family and the community as a whole.

Q2: How common is sudden cardiac death?
Sudden cardiac death occurs most frequently in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s, and affects men twice as often as it does women. Men tend to suffer from heart diseases at a younger age probably because of their lifestyle and hormones. Tobacco use and also unhealthy diet which is high in saturated fats, trans-fat, and cholesterol will increase the risk of heart diseases. Women on the other hand, have natural hormone protection towards cardiovascular diseases before menopause which reduces the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. This condition is rare in children, affecting only 1 to 2 per 100,000 children each year.

Q3: Who is at risk of sudden cardiac death?

People who have a history of previous cardiac arrest, poor heart function, family history of sudden cardiac death and certain types of an inherited heart abnormality.

Q4: How does sudden cardiac death occur?
Most sudden cardiac deaths are caused by abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. The most dangerous life-threatening arrhythmia is ventricular fibrillation, which is an erratic, disorganised firing of impulses from the heart’s lower chambers. When this occurs, the heart is unable to pump blood, and death will occur within minutes, if left untreated.

Q5: What are the causes of sudden cardiac death?
Most cases of sudden cardiac death are related to undetected cardiovascular diseases. In the younger population, sudden cardiac death is often due to congenital heart defects, while in older population (35 years and older), the cause is more often related to coronary artery disease.

Q6: What are the red flags for sudden cardiac death?
• Any surgery/procedure done to the heart when young
• Chest pain
• Severe giddiness or unexplained dizziness during exercise
• Fainting spells
• A congenital heart abnormality
• A strong family history of heart problems or sudden unexplained death
• Drug habits or smoking
• Heart murmur

Q7: What are the sports commonly associated with sudden cardiac death?
• Football
• Basketball
• Badminton
• Marathon

Q8: How to prevent sudden cardiac death?
Health screenings such as ECG and physical examination may not necessarily be enough to detect health conditions which may lead to sudden cardiac death. Therefore, those who are at high risk of sudden cardiac death should avoid competitive sports and seek immediate medical help if there are red flags of sudden cardiac death. Depending on the underlying condition, medical or surgical treatments might be appropriate to reduce your risk of sudden death.

Another option for some people is a battery-powered implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). This device implanted in the chest will continuously monitor the heartbeat. If a life threatening abnormal heart rhythm occurs, the ICD will deliver electrical shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm. For people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest without ICD, an Automated External Defibrillators (AED) machine which are now available in most public areas such as large shopping malls, airports or healthcare institutions may be life-saving.
Patients and the public should be self-aware of their heart’s condition and know when to seek for medical assistance.