Anyone can have a sudden cardiac arrest, but it’s much more common in some age groups than others. Sudden cardiac arrest is rare in young adults, but it does happen. Many people – especially young people – aren’t aware they have a risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Sometimes, the only way to find out if you’re at risk is via cardiac screening.
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
A sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart stops beating because the electrical system has become dysfunctional. This can happen suddenly, randomly, and without any warning. When someone has a sudden cardiac arrest, they usually collapse and lose consciousness almost immediately. They may also look very pale.
When someone has a sudden cardiac arrest they need immediate treatment. This is important because the heart must be restarted as soon as possible. And they also need treatment to keep their blood circulating in the meantime. The most effective combination is CPR followed by defibrillation to restart the heart.
Not the same as a heart attack
Many people mistakenly think sudden cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack, but this is not the case. While a heart attack can be thought of as a plumbing problem, a sudden cardiac arrest is more like an electrical fault.
In a heart attack, blood supply to the heart is reduced, because an artery leading to the heart is partially or fully blocked. In a sudden cardiac attack, there is no blockage. Instead, the electrical rhythm of the heart is disturbed, which prevents the heart from functioning normally.
A heart attack can lead to a sudden cardiac arrest. Other causes of sudden cardiac arrest include congenital heart abnormality, heart failure, electrocution, and drug overdose.
How Rare is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
In the UK, 100,000 people die every year due to sudden cardiac arrest. It’s the nation’s biggest killer, killing twice as many people as lung cancer, and over three times as many as stroke.
Sudden cardiac arrest is rare in young adults, but it does claim over 600 young lives every year. An estimated X number of young adults die to sudden cardiac arrest each year. Most of these are at risk due to genetic or structural hearth abnormalities. These include:
- Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: an inherited condition that causes the lining of the heart to thicken.
- Long QT Syndrome: an inherited disorder that causes an abnormal heart rhythm. Nearly half of people with long QT syndrome have no symptoms.
- Commotio Cordis: a hard, blunt blow to the chest causes an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation.
Cardiac Screening Can Save Lives
An estimated 1 in 300 people in the UK have a heart abnormality that increases their risk of sudden cardiac arrest. While many older adults—for instance, people with diagnosed heart failure—are aware of the risk, it’s much less likely that young adults are aware. Cardiac screening to check the heart for abnormalities can diagnose these heart problems before they kill.