My plan was to write about arrhythmias today. Then, I went for a run. A friend of mine just sent me some information about a bi-athaolon comprised of a 2 mile run and a 10 mile bike ride and I thought it might be fun to try. Understand that I am not a runner but still, I thought, “How hard can this be?” So, I put in my ear buds and hit the open road this morning. (As an aside, if you have a dog, you have to listen to the Zac Brown song, Martin. I don’t have a dog, nor do I want one, but while listening to these lyrics, I was looking for one to steal.) I ran – if you can call it that – about a mile. It was not pretty. I saw my life flash before my eyes several times. I should have left a note. Needless to say, I will be watching the bi-athalon from the sidelines. My “run” today forced me to think about sudden cardiac arrest which has robbed people of all ages of their lives.
Why and to whom does it happen?
1. Cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. Cardiac arrest means that the heart has stopped. A heart attack, or myocardial infarction (MI) describes the death of some part of the heart tissue. If a large enough area of the heart is involved or if the electrical conduction of the heart is effected, the heart can stop. But, in many cases, only a small area of the heart infarcts and the heart can keep beating.
2. Any heart abnormality or disease can cause cardiac arrest under the right circumstances. According to the American Heart Association, there were 294,851 cardiac arrests in the U.S. last year. In 90% of adult victims, two or more of the coronary arteries showed significant plaque build up on autopsy and about 60% of adult victims showed evidence of a previous heart attack. Sudden unexpected cardiac arrest occurs most frequently in people in their mid-30s to mid-40s. It is twice as common in men.
3. What happens? Usually, the underlying disease or event interrupts the rhythm of the heart causing it to beat fast and ineffectively before it stops completely. If you have ever watched ER, you’ve seen the green lines on the monitor start to go crazy and then flatline. There are several different types of arrhythmias (or dysrhythmias) and not all of them will result in arrest. A couple of them, though, are unsustainable. The heart is essentially quivering instead of beating which leads to complete cessation. The event can be brought on by intense physical activity, a spike in adrenaline, certain drugs and medications or nothing at all. More rarely, the fatal arrhythmia is a significant slowing of the heart rate.
4. Cardiac arrest in children – When I was a high school senior, I was often running late for school. One day, I arrived at the same time as an ambulance that had been called for a sophomore girl who was outside running for first period P.E. Her heart had stopped and she died. It is not something you can soon forget and it is something that you hear about from time to time – young athletes dying on the field or court with no warning. Sudden cardiac death affects 1-2 per 100,000 children each year. It is a rare but devastating problem and most often occurs during physical activity. While the underlying cause for most adults is coronary artery disease, the underlying cause in children is structural or congenital heart problems. There may be no symptoms or the symptoms may be very subtle. There is much discussion about what types of screenings are appropriate for athletes and as of yet, there is no clear consensus. If you have a family history of congenital heart problems or if your child complains of even mild chest pain or shortness of breath, discuss it with a physician.
5. Treatment – Within 4-6 minutes of cardiac arrest, brain damage can occur. This is the critical window. Immediate defibrillation provides the best (usually only) chance for survival. A couple of months ago, YesFive covered emergencies. If you are interested in learning a little more about CPR and defibrillation, click here.
All of my Valentine’s Day candy (that I bought myself) is officially gone. Heart health week has come to an end as well and yet, there is so much more to say. Most importantly, do NOT ignore your symptoms. Yes, everyone gets some aches and pains and everyone gets a little short of breath sometimes. However, you are better off safe than sorry – there’s a reason why God invented the EKG. Don’t be such a tough guy.
Have a wonderful long weekend. Appreciate all of the perks that living in America has provided you — from freedom and democracy to clean water and California Chardonnay. There are countries that, at this very moment, are fighting for basic human rights. There are even countries that have to import all their wine — be grateful, be happy, be drunkenly grateful and happy, or not. You are American. It’s your choice.