Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating, causing the victim to lose consciousness and stop breathing, and resulting in the loss of blood flow to the brain, heart and other vital organs. It is usually caused by an electrical disturbance in the heart, and usually results in death if not treated within minutes.
Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same as a heart attack. With a heart attack, there is a blockage of blood flow to the heart, and the victim may remain conscious and alert. Someone who has experienced a sudden cardiac arrest collapses into unconsciousness, and is clinically dead. They can be revived if treatment—CPR and the use of a defibrillator—is administered immediately, ideally within three to five minutes after collapse.
Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among adults over the age of 40. In the United States, approximately 326,000 people experience sudden cardiac arrest every year. Nine out of 10 of them die. More people die from sudden cardiac arrest each year than accidents, suicides, flu, pneumonia, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease combined. Sudden cardiac arrest is almost twice as common in blacks than in whites.