How is sudden cardiac arrest treated?

Once a cardiac arrest occurs, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation are required within the first several minutes to restore electrical activity to the heart and revive the heart's pumping function.

Immediate treatment for SCA includes:

Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) – involves chest compressions with assisted breathing (30:2 ratio)1. This is an important step to allow external defibrillation therapy to be effective.
Defibrillation – sends a strong electrical shock to the heart to stop the arrhythmia and restore a normal heartbeat. There are two types of defibrillators: external defibrillators use paddles to deliver a shock to the outside of the body, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators are implanted pacemaker-like devices that can sense arrhythmias and deliver life saving shocks. ICDs have been shown to prevent sudden cardiac death.3

Survival of sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac death kills nearly 300,000 people each year in the United States. This is more than the deaths caused by AIDS, breast cancer and lung cancer.1 

Only 1 in 20 people usually survives a sudden cardiac arrest event. The other 19 people die before reaching the hospital.2

With an ICD device, 19 out of 20 people will survive SCA. ICD therapy has been shown to effectively stop 95% or more of dangerously fast heart rhythms.4

People who are at risk for SCA – or who are SCA survivors – might also be treated with procedures or medications. However, medications alone have not proven to be very effective in reducing the risk of SCA.3

If you or someone you know is at risk for SCA, you are not alone. Only your heart doctor can determine which treatment is right for you. During your discussion with your doctor, you may want to have a list of topics and questions, such as what we list below. Also, if you take notes during your appointment, you can share this information with your family members.

  • Test results, including your ECG results
  • Arrhythmia diagnosis and condition of your heart
  • Treatment options and physician’s recommendations
  • What to expect before, during, and after the procedure
  • Follow-up visits and what to expect
  • Living with the ICD, including physical limitations and medications

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