Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest, the third-leading cause of death in the United States, happens quickly and often without warning.

During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops beating because of a problem with its electrical system. When this happens, blood and oxygen are no longer being delivered to the brain and other vital organs. A person suffering sudden cardiac arrest can die if he or she does not receive immediate treatment.

Difference Between Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attack

Sudden cardiac arrest is not the same condition as a heart attack, where blood flow to the heart is blocked. But a heart attack can result in a disturbance to the heart’s electrical system, which can cause sudden cardiac arrest.

Risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • Family history of coronary artery disease
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Inactive lifestyle  


Symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • Sudden collapse
  • Abnormal breathing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blue discoloration of the face

Other warning signs include chest discomfort, weakness, heart palpitations and shortness of breath.

When any of these symptoms or signs occur, immediate treatment is critical. The lack of oxygen-rich blood in the body can lead to death or permanent brain damage in a matter of minutes.


If a person is unconscious and not breathing, the goal is to get immediate treatment:

  • Call 911 for emergency medical help.
  • Check the person’s breathing. If he or she is not breathing normally, begin CPR by pushing fast and hard on the person’s chest, approximately 100 to 120 compressions per minute. Continue this until emergency help arrives. 
  • If a portable automated external defibrillator (AED) is available, don’t hesitate to use it. The device will give you step-by-step instructions and will check the person’s heart rhythm to determine if a shock is necessary. If necessary, the defibrillator will give a second shock. Continue this cycle until emergency help arrives or the person gains consciousness.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment with a Frankel Cardiovascular Center physician, call us at 888-287-1082. Visit our Make a Cardiovascular Appointment page for more information about what to expect when you call.