We know of a broken heart, we know of a heart beating faster in excitement. But do we know what it means by a heart getting arrested? Does that sound weird? But I am talking about a sudden cardiac arrest! Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating all of a sudden. On arrest, the blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Sudden cardiac arrest, if not treated in minutes, causes death.

There was a young boy who was very curious to know about his heart. He once decided to ask his heart about all his queries. He began talking to his heart. I overheard their conversation...

The boy first asked the heart to introduce itself. His heart began saying, "Oh young boy! I am your heart, the most important organ of your body. I am a muscular organ found in all vertebrates. I am responsible for the pumping of blood through the blood vessels by repeated, rhythmic contractions. I reside in the middle of your thorax. I am enclosed in a sac called pericardium and surrounded by lungs. I beat at the rate of 72 beats per minute. It's your brain prompting me to do that at regular intervals. Can you hear me beat?" The boy tried to listen to his heartbeats and got even more interested.

He then said to his heart, "Oh you are a wonderful organ! I have heard of a cardiac arrest many times. But I want to know more about it from you. Can you tell me what do we mean by a sudden cardiac arrest?" His heart appreciated him for his question and started telling him about it.

"Sudden cardiac arrest has some synonyms. It can be called cardio respiratory arrest, cardiopulmonary arrest or circulatory arrest ", said the heart. It further added, "A cardiac arrest is an abrupt termination of normal circulation of the blood due to failure of the heart to contract effectively during systole. When it leads to death, it is called sudden cardiac death."

"Now let me throw light on the causes of this sudden cardiac arrest, his heart continued.
  • Heart disease: Heart disease is found in victims of sudden cardiac death. In 90% of the cases, coronary arteries are seen to have narrowed. A scarred or an enlarged heart may develop ventricular arrhythmias.
  • Heart medications: Various heart medications sometimes produce lethal ventricular arrhythmias.
  • Hyperkalemia or Hypokalemia: Both excess and inadequate potassium levels in your body can be life-threatening.
  • Electrical abnormalities: There can be a short circuit between my upper and lower chambers. There's a rapid rhythm disturbance, when the rate of my electrical signals slows down or when I stop responding to the electrical signals. Such electrical anomalies cause sudden cardiac death.
  • Blood vessel abnormalities: They include inborn blood vessel anomalies. Adrenaline release during intense athletic activity can trigger cardiac death."
"There must be some diagnostic tests to detect a cardiac arrest, right? ", the boy inquired. The heart answered, "Loss of consciousness is the first indication of sudden cardiac arrest. Sadly, it is often diagnosed after it happens. The diagnostic tests include:
  • EKG: This is a simple test that records my electrical activity from your body's surface.
  • Echocardiogram: This test uses sound waves to create a moving picture of mine. Echocardiogram provides information about my size and shape and how well my chambers and valves are functioning. A stress echocardiogram is usually done to find out if there is a decrease in the amount of blood that flows to me.
  • Heart Catheterization: Catheterization is used to see how my electrical system responds to certain medicines and electrical stimulation. The electrical stimulation helps to find the fault in my electrical system."
Now the boy was curious to know of the treatments possible for a cardiac arrest. He also asked his heart some preventive measures to protect it from an arrest! The heart promptly responded, "Sudden cardiac arrest requires immediate treatment with a defibrillator. It is a device that sends an electrical shock to the heart. Defibrillation can restore my normal rhythm. But defibrillation has to be provided within minutes of cardiac arrest. Giving shock treatment to the chest and restoring circulation immediately improves the chances of survival. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation should be given until defibrillation can be provided."

The heart warned the boy by telling him that a cardiac arrest occurs most often in adults falling in the age group of mid-thirties to mid-forties and that it affects men twice as often as women. "Coronary artery disease makes one more susceptible to cardiac arrest. The person has to undergo angioplasty in case of a coronary artery disease", the heart added.

"I had heard of a device surgically fitted into a person's body. What is that?" the boy asked. His heart replied, "Yes, it's an implantable cardioverter defibrillator known as the ICD. It is placed under the skin. It monitors dangerous rhythms and delivers an electric shock to restore a normal rhythm."

"But my boy", the heart said lovingly, "Prevention is better than cure. Follow a heart-healthy lifestyle to reduce the risk of a cardiac arrest. Eat a diet, low in cholesterol, avoid saturated fats. Exercise regularly. Don't smoke." "Sudden cardiac death is a major health problem, causing about 310,000 deaths each year among U.S. adults and this is alarming!" the heart added.

The boy had well understood about the threats to his heart. He had understood that he should take good care of his heart to prevent sudden cardiac death. He had decided to follow what his heart had said to him. What have you decided?