When Your Heart Suddenly Stops Beating: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

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Have you ever wondered why some young people who have led seemingly healthy lifestyles can just collapse in the midst of a workout? It is probably due to a condition known as sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), where one’s heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.

In this article, we speak to Senior Cardiology Consultant Dr. Eric Chong and Dr. Ong Sea Hing to find out more about SCA and how it can be prevented.

Causes of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

SCA happens when blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Irregular heartbeats called arrhythmias happen and can cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow or with an irregular rhythm. This is one factor that can cause the heart to stop pumping blood to the body, hence causing SCA. However, that is not all. 

“The chances of SCA occurring are higher when one has a family history. Factors such as smoking, poor diet and stress can also lead to the condition,” Dr. Chong explained.

“In Singapore, numbers show that Indians have the greatest risk of SCA. Those with a BMI over 30 or people aged 60 and above is also a risk factor, especially so if they also have hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and obstructive sleep apnea (OSA),” he added.

Warning Signs

While SCA usually occurs suddenly and unexpectedly, there are still signs that can help one spot an arrest in advance. They include but are not limited to:

  • Breathlessness
  • Chest discomfort or pain
  • Choking sensation
  • Cold sweat
  • Dizziness
  • Epigastric discomfort not caused by food
  • Heart palpitations
  • Numbness in left arm
  • Unusual tiredness

Time is Gold

SCA is a serious condition that can result in death if not treated within minutes. As explained earlier, SCA happens when blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Hence, it is essential for one to receive medical help immediately.

When asked if there is anything bystanders or passers-by can do when they see someone passed out from SCA, Dr. Chong shared that they must use an automated external defibrillator (AED) or perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the patient immediately.

“Patients who suffers from cardiac arrest must seek immediate resuscitation and treatment immediately. Once resuscitation has started, the risk of death of 1% per minute. Time is gold. If the patient is in asystole (where the heart ceases to beat), the death rate is 10% per minute delay in active treatment,” Dr. Chong explained.

Heart attack is another worrying condition of the heart often discussed. Also known as myocardial infarction, the condition happens when there is decreased blood supply to the heart’s muscle. Unlike SCA, heart attack is less fatal if patient reaches hospital before occurrence of fatal arrhythmia or severe hypotension due to shock.

Cardiac Conditions Detected Early Using Artificial Intelligence

However, early detection of cardiac arrest is possible now with the assistance of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to reduce cardiovascular morbidity and mortality, even if patients are symptomatic. In conjunction with World Heart Day, Farrer Park Hospital (FPH)  signed a memorandum of understanding with Medtronic to start an AI-assisted Auscultation for Early Cardiac Diseases Program at FPH. Through this program, our network of GPs, cardiologists, and specialists use the device to pick up signs that may go unnoticed, allowing better diagnoses. Any anomaly detected at the primary care clinics, the patient is immediately referred to FPH’s cardiologist for further investigations.

“Some patients may be fairly asymptomatic, thus this device will allow you to screen them earlier and potentially save their lives,” said Dr. Ong Sea Hing, …. “We hope that with the aid of AI, we are able to pick up disorders that present a murmur and atrial fibrillation which might be missed out during a usual ECG screening. Furthermore, it is known that the risk of stroke is 7 times higher in a patient who has atrial fibrillation,” he added. 

“In octogenarians, up to 30% of strokes happen because of atrial fibrillation thus it is a worthwhile disease to pick up to prevent massive strokes,” cautioned Dr. Ong.

Regular Heart Health Screening

During a heart health screening, patients will undergo tests to check for any signs of heart disease. Dr. Chong advises that those aged 40 and above should go for heart health screening every two years. However, younger patients who also have predisposing diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, smoking or OSA are also encouraged to get screened early.

If you require medical attention, visit our 24HR Emergency Clinic or call us at 6705 2999. To learn more, send us an enquiry here.

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This Article Was Reviewed By:

Dr. Eric Chong is a cardiologist and sub-specialises and is accredited in interventional cardiology, cardiac pacing and electrophysiology procedures. He has conducted clinical and translational research in coronary angioplasty, coronary stents, protective kidney therapy during contrast procedure, heart rhythm disorders, atrial fibrillation and cardiac device management. Besides Cardiology, he is also a MOH/SMC accredited Internal Medicine Specialist.

Dr. Ong Sea Hing is a Consultant Cardiologist and Physician. His area of subspecialty is in coronary artery angioplasty and stenting including complex coronary interventions. He also performs transcatheter aortic valve implantations (TAVI).

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