Sudden Cardiac Death: Its Causes and Symptoms

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Sudden Cardiac Death in India: What You Need to Know


Sudden cardiac death (SCD) or Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) occurs when a heart rhythm abnormality causes the heart to stop beating and stops blood flow to the brain and body causing a person to die suddenly. SCD occurs unexpectedly without warning and often results in death within minutes of onset. SCD is often caused by a condition called ventricular fibrillation (VF), where the heart’s normal electrical impulses become chaotic and uncoordinated. VF causes the heart muscle to stop pumping blood effectively, resulting in loss of consciousness and death.

SCD accounts for over half of all deaths in people under the age of 65 years old. This is a major cause of concern because SCD does not have a symptom; therefore, it cannot be detected until it is too late.

Quick fact check: The following factors increase the chances of having a cardiac arrest:

  • A family history of premature coronary disease
  • Being male
  • Having diabetes
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Obesity
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Overweight
  • Physical inactivity

What is the prevalence of SCD in India and among the people?  

The American Heart Association estimates that over 1 million Americans experience an episode of sudden cardiac death annually, and more than 300,000 individuals succumb to SCD. SCD causes an estimated $50 billion in direct and indirect costs per year, including hospitalization, emergency department visits, lost productivity, and premature mortality.

In India, the rate of sudden cardiac death is higher than in any other country in the world. SCD is defined as “a type of heart attack where the electrical system of the heart suddenly stops working”. According to the World Health Organization, India has the highest number of deaths due to SCD in the world.

In India, about 1 out of every 4 deaths is due to heart disease. About 60% of these deaths occur suddenly. Most often, the cause of sudden cardiac death is coronary artery disease. Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among young adults (age 15-44) in India. A study conducted in Bangalore showed that the risk of SCD was higher in men than women.

Athletes and sudden cardiac death: what’s the percentage and how does it relate?



A study was conducted to determine if there was any correlation between athletic activity and sudden cardiac death. SCD is defined as the unexpected death of someone who had no prior history of heart disease. In this case, the researchers were looking at the rate of SCD in athletes versus non-athletes.

Athletes were considered to have been active if they participated in sports that involved running, jumping, throwing, swimming, cycling, weightlifting, wrestling, boxing, soccer, basketball, volleyball, tennis, golf, skiing, snowboarding, ice hockey, lacrosse, rugby, football, baseball, softball, track and field, rowing, canoeing, kayaking, climbing, surfing, sailing, horseback riding, motorcycling, mountain biking, skateboarding, BMX, snowmobiling, and cross country skiing. Non-athletes were those individuals who did not participate in any sports.

The results showed that the rate of SCD was higher among athletes than non-athletes. However, the difference was only significant in males. There was no significant difference in females.

Understanding the various Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments of SCD

Sudden cardiac death is one of the major public health concerns. Most people who suffer from SCD do not survive long enough to receive proper care. Early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent SCD.

Causes of Sudden Cardiac Death


There are many causes of SCD. Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of SCD. Other causes include congenital defects, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol), smoking, obesity, and drug use.

  • Coronary Artery Disease
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Depression

Symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Death


The first symptom of SCD is chest pain or discomfort. Other symptoms of SCD include shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, weakness, fainting, fatigue, and syncope (a feeling of faintness). These symptoms can occur at any time, even while sleeping. The following symptoms indicate that someone may have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest:

  • Chest Pain/Discomfort
  • Shortness Of Breath
  • Loss Of Consciousness
  • Fainting
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Diaphoresis

Treatment of Sudden Cardiac Death


Treatment for SCD includes medical treatment and resuscitation. Medical treatment involves treating underlying conditions that may have contributed to the problem. The goal of resuscitation is to restart the heart and circulation after the heart stops beating. The recovery position should be used if the patient is unconscious. Below are the mentioned treatments for SCD

  • Defibrillator
  • Defibrillation is the act of applying electrical current to the heart via pads attached to the chest wall. It interrupts the fibrillation of the heart’s action and begins the healing process. A defibrillator can be used for adults and children alike and can be purchased online or at local pharmacies.
  • First Aid Kit
  • An emergency first aid kit should have basic supplies including adhesive tape, gauze, bandages, alcohol wipes, cotton balls, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, aspirin, antihistamine, antiseptic, eye wash, hydrogen peroxide, iodine tincture, oral airway, saline solution, sterile needle/syringe, suction device, thermometer, tweezers, trauma gloves, vaseline, and water-proof matches.
  • CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)
  • CPR involves using hands and arms to compress the chest and back of the victim while breathing for them until help arrives. It is administered by trained individuals who may use a manual resuscitator or automatic external defibrillator. CPR works best if performed immediately after a heart attack or stroke, and is not effective if applied after ten minutes of a heart attack or twenty minutes after a stroke.
  • Epinephrine Injection
  • Adrenal glands naturally produce epinephrine. It causes the body to experience increased blood pressure, pulse rate, and respiratory rate.
  • Hypothermia Treatment
  • Hypothermia occurs when the core temperature of the body drops below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. It can lead to unconsciousness, mental confusion, muscle rigidity, and eventually death. To prevent hypothermia, keep the patient warm and cover their head with a warm blanket. If they lose consciousness, place a dry towel under their head to increase circulation.

Compared to a heart attack, how does sudden cardiac arrest differ?

There are two major differences between a heart attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA). SCA is caused by electrical problems in the heart. Heart attacks occur when blood clots block coronary arteries. A heart attack can result in death if not treated rapidly. SCA occurs suddenly without warning and may lead to death unless treatment is provided immediately.

How to prevent yourself from SCD?


There are many risk factors associated with sudden cardiac death including age, family history, genetics, lifestyle habits, and medical conditions. However, there are some simple steps we can take to reduce our chances of dying from SCD.

  • Get regular checkups – If you have any symptoms of heart disease, make sure you get checked out right away!
  • Quit smoking – Smoking increases your risk of developing coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of these diseases and lowers your risk of SCD.
  • Eat well – A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, etc may help lower the risk.
  • Exercise regularly – Regular physical activity helps keep your weight under control, lowers your risk of cardiovascular disease, and boosts your immune system.
  • Be active – Being physically active can improve your mood and decrease your risk of depression.
  • Avoid alcohol – Alcohol consumption increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and liver damage.
  • Maintain a healthy sleep schedule – Getting enough quality sleep each night can boost your immune system and protect you from cardiovascular disease.
  • Take care of yourself – Taking good care of yourself includes eating a balanced diet, getting adequate rest, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco use, managing stress, and having regular doctor visits. If you’re at risk of SCD, talk to your doctor about what you can do to lower your risk.

In the end,

If you witness someone having a sudden cardiac arrest, If you don’t know what to do, then here are some things you should consider doing to help save the person’s life.

The first thing you need to understand is that SCA is a medical emergency! You should call 102 immediately, and tell them what happened. Let the dispatcher know that the person had a sudden cardiac arrest. Make sure that they have the address where the person was located and give them any information they may need.

After calling 102, you should start CPR. To perform CPR correctly, follow these steps:

  • Place two fingers over their nose and mouth.
  • Cover their mouth completely with your hand.
  • Keep both hands around their chest.
  • Pump at least ten times per minute.
  • Continue until EMS arrives.
  • Once EMS has arrived, let them know that the person has a sudden cardiac arrest.

You should now try to get the victim to the hospital as soon as possible. If you live near the location where the incident occurred, drive to the nearest ER right away. Even though you may not think anything could be wrong with the person, you still need to take care of yourself as well.

Check their pulse and breathing rate. If the person isn’t responsive, don’t move them. Call EMS again and ask if anyone else is unconscious. If the person isn’t responding, don’t move them further. Wait for EMS to arrive and check on everyone else. When EMS arrives, transport the person to the nearest hospital. Once the patient arrives at the hospital, make sure they receive oxygen and CPR while en route.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the rate of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in young adults?
  • The rate of SCD in young adults is 1 per 100 000 people annually.
  • How does SCD differ between men and women?
  • Women have a higher rate of SCD than men. In fact, the rate of SCD in women is about 2 times greater than in men
  • Are there any risk factors for SCD in young adults?
  • A history of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, family history of early heart disease, and physical activity levels are some of the risk factors for SCD.
  • Is exercise a risk factor for SCD?
  • Exercise may increase the risk of SCD if it increases heart rate above 120 beats per minute (bpm). Exercise at lower intensities may not cause a significant change in heart rate.
  • Does caffeine affect SCD?
  • Caffeine may decrease the risk of SCD in athletes who consume moderate amounts of caffeine daily. However, caffeine intake should be kept below 400 mg/day.
  • Do alcohol and marijuana use increase the risk of SCDs?
  • Alcohol and marijuana use does not appear to increase the risk of SCS.

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