What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is what happens when the heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly. Out of nowhere, the patient’s heart stops pumping blood.

Is SCA the same thing as a heart attack?

SCA is not the same thing as a heart attack. With SCA, the heart simply stops beating. A heart attack occurs when a part of the heart stops receiving blood flow due to an event like plaque buildup. At times, a heart attack can cause heart trauma that brings on sudden cardiac arrest.

How common is sudden cardiac arrest in children?

It is well documented that SCA is the leading cause of death of adults in the United States. However, the numbers for children are not as clear because the causes of death in children were not tracked until 2013. It is the #1 killer of student athletes. It responsible for up to 15% of all sudden infant deaths. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that two thousand children die every year. We believe the number is higher.

What causes sudden cardiac arrest in children?

The conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death fall into two categories: structural and electrical. A structural heart defect prevents the heart from working properly – it’s too big or the parts are in the wrong place. An electrical heart defect interrupts the heart’s rhythm. The more common structural conditions are anomalous coronary artery, arrythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), left ventricular non-compaction, and Marfan syndrome. The more common electrical conditions are Brugada syndrome, complete heart block, Long QT syndrome, and Wolff-Parkinson White syndrome (WPW).

How are these heart conditions diagnosed?

The first step is always a medical history. However, this is not enough. An electrocardiogram (ECG), coupled with a physical exam and medical history is the best way to diagnose heart condition. If something is detected on the ECG, follow up exams like an echocardiogram (ECHO), stress test and/or holter monitor may be recommended.

How are these heart conditions treated?

Most conditions can be treated with medication and lifestyle changes.  More severe cases may be treated with a pacemaker, implanted defibrillator (ICD), or corrective surgery.

Do these heart conditions have warning signs?

Sometimes. A study showed that seventy-two percent of students who died from SCA did have a warning sign. However, the warning sign can be confused with other conditions, or just disregarded as insignificant. The warning signs are fainting or seizures during exercise, unexplained shortness of breath, dizziness, extreme fatigue and/or a racing heart. You should also be on notice if a family member died suddenly and unexpectedly under the age of 50.

What can you do?

Become familiar with the warning signs. Talk to your pediatrician. Get an ECG exam.