When Your Heart Suddenly Stops Beating: Sudden Cardiac Arrest

  • 01 Sep 2020
  • 3 mins read

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, 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.

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, hyperlipidaemia, smoking or OSA are also encouraged to get screened early.

Contributed by

Dr. Eric Chong
Senior Cardiology Consultant
ESC Cardiovascular and Medicine Clinic


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