Can Sudden Cardiac Death Be Prevented?

04 January 2020

Article by: Dato’ Dr Yap Yee Guan, Cardiologist

Most cases of sudden death stem from heart diseases. The most common heart disease that causes sudden cardiac death vary depending on age groups: In the younger population, sudden cardiac death is often due to undetected cardiovascular disease, while in the older population, the cause is more often related to coronary artery disease.

What is Sudden Cardiac Death? 

Sudden cardiac death is an unexpected death caused by a changed in the heart rhythm (sudden cardiac arrest) that occurs in a short time period - generally within 1 hour. Many times, these deaths occur with no prior symptoms. Within a few minutes, the blood flow to the brain will be reduced drastically, causing a person to lose consciousness. Death will follow unless emergency treatment is initiated immediately.

To save a person from sudden cardiac death, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) must be performed instantly. Failure to perform timely and effective CPR might cause irreversible brain damage even if the patient’s heartbeat was restored. CPR keeps sufficient oxygen and blood flowing to the brain until the normal heart rhythm is restored with an electric shock to the chest - a procedure called defibrillation.

You are at high risk of sudden cardiac death if:

  1. You have suffered from coronary heart disease / myocardial congestion before
  2. You have severe arrhythmia
  3. You suffer from heart failure, which causes your heart to be unable to pump sufficient blood to fulfil your body’s needs
  4. You have a family history of sudden cardiac death
  5. You suffer from genetic cardiac diseases eg. congenital hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, Brugada syndrome, prolonged QT interval syndrome, Wolf-Parkinson-White syndrome, anomalous coronary artery, myocardial inflammation etc
  6. You have suffered from cardiac arrest before

Remember this: Even people who seem to be in good health can suffer from sudden cardiac death.

Heart diseases can be very complicated. Apart from the well-known heart diseases such as arrhythmia, heart failure and coronary heart disease, there are other heart diseases such as genetically-induced genetic heart diseases such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome and Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome.

When a person is in a state of fatigue, chronic stress or intense exercise, it might cause dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, increased adrenaline or blood pH imbalance. These might induce sudden cardiac death.

It is, therefore, crucial to get a heart-health screening to avoid sudden cardiac death.
We must understand our family’s medical history, such as: has anyone in the family suffered from sudden death? If the answer is yes, it is then necessary to consult the doctor as soon as possible. Also, if you are not a person who exercises regularly, it is important for you to consult a doctor before you decide to participate in extreme sports (such as marathon and triathlon) or sports competition (such as basketball and badminton). This is critical for those who had experienced sudden fainting, chest pain, difficulty in breathing or seizure before as it could help prevent sudden cardiac death caused by undiscovered heart defects.  

In general, a doctor can diagnose heart diseases by using the following tests:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): Predict whether a person’s heartbeat is abnormal through the waveform displayed on the ECG.
  • Electrophysiology studies (EPS): Assess the heart’s electrical system by inserting thin tubes through blood vessels that enter the heart.
  • Echocardiogram: Evaluate a person’s heart muscle and valves with ultrasound.
  • MRI scan: Produce detailed pictures of the heart’s structure with the use of a powerful magnetic field and radio waves.

The truth is this: when sudden cardiac arrest occurs in public, the success rate of a rescue mission is actually very low. This is most likely because CPR knowledge is not common, and automated external defibrillators (AED) are not commonly installed in public areas.

As such, corporations and charity groups should sponsor or donate more AED and install them in public to prevent cardiac death. With AED, the success rate of rescuing someone from cardiac death will certainly increase. In addition, the public should be equipped with basic first aid knowledge such as CPR as it can be handy in cases of emergency.

In other words, when faced with cardiac arrest or other emergencies, call an ambulance immediately, perform CPR promptly and look for a nearby AED quickly. You might save a life.




Tags: heart