Sudden cardiac death – what it is and what warning signs you should pay attention to

Sudden cardiac death – what it is and what warning signs you should pay attention to

First actor Elmar Wepper, then presenter Hans Meiser – within a few days, two TV greats died of sudden cardiac death. How can it be that the heart suddenly stops working? The most important facts about the so-called “second death”.

Suddenly the heart stops working. Seemingly out of nowhere. Unexpectedly. Sudden cardiac death, also known as instantaneous death, is insidious. It rarely announces itself and usually ends fatally. An overview of how heart failure occurs, what warning signs you should pay attention to and how you can help those affected in an emergency.

When do we speak of sudden cardiac death?

In short, sudden cardiac death is an unexpected death due to a cardiac cause. Sudden cardiac death occurs when a person dies within an hour of the first symptoms appearing. This also includes people who were found dead even though they were completely free of pain and symptoms 24 hours earlier.

Are there symptoms that indicate sudden cardiac death?

Sudden cardiac death is also called instantaneous death – it almost never occurs. However, there are a few warning signs that you can still use as a guide.
Cardiac arrhythmias can manifest themselves in loss of consciousness that occurs when sitting or lying down (not when waking up or standing up). Signs of an impending heart attack can include chest pain that radiates to the left arm, upper abdomen or lower jaw. In both cases, a doctor should be consulted quickly.

How is it getting started?

According to the German Center for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), severe cardiac rhythm disorders initially occur, followed by cardiac arrest within a few minutes. As the disease progresses, those affected lose consciousness and normal breathing stops.

How can you help those affected in the situation?

Quick resuscitation is essential. It is recommended to first make an emergency call and then immediately begin chest compressions, possibly also with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

How do you know that it is actually a cardiovascular problem?

If the patient is unresponsive but unconscious, breathing must be checked. To do this, you can use the see-hear-feel rule. You can tell whether the patient is breathing by the rise and fall of the chest. You can also listen with your ear over the person’s mouth or try to feel the air you are breathing with your hand. If it is not clear that the affected person is breathing normally, resuscitation must begin.

How does cardiopulmonary resuscitation work?

The German Red Cross (DRK) recommends manual first aid measures according to this scheme (until a defibrillator is used):

1. You kneel next to the unconscious person who is lying flat on their back at chest level. A hard surface is important.
2. Free your upper body and place the ball of one hand on the middle of your chest and place the ball of the second hand on the first hand.
3. Now stretch your arms and begin to press your chest vertically from above.
4. It is recommended to press at a frequency of 100 to 120 times per minute, approximately five to six centimeters deep.
5. Relieve pressure on the chest. According to the DRK, the duration of pressure and relief should ideally be the same.
6. This will continue until emergency responders arrive.

If cardiopulmonary resuscitation is necessary, the rhythm is: 30 times chest compressions and two breathing rescues, alternating.

1. Close both of the affected person’s nostrils with your hand and open your mouth with your hand
2. Inhale normally and place your mouth on the patient
3. Breathe air into the patient for approximately one second. The chest should rise.

What is a defibrillator and how is it used?

This is a device that uses electrical impulses to normalize the heart rhythm. Instructions for use can be found on the device

What is the chance of survival?

Small amount. Those affected only have a chance of surviving if immediate emergency help is provided. “For every minute that the heart stops, the affected person’s chance of survival decreases by ten percent,” writes the DZHK. In addition, the brain can suffer serious damage if resuscitation takes too long.

How is the treatment followed?

As a rule, people who have suffered a sudden cardiac arrest are implanted with a defibrillator, which counteracts the cardiac arrhythmia in the event of new cardiac arrhythmias using electrical impulses and normalizes the heart rhythm.

What are the causes of sudden cardiac death?

In the majority of cases, sudden cardiac death is caused by an “unpredictable heart attack,” according to the German Center for Cardiovascular Research. In only a few cases (13 percent) it affects high-risk patients, i.e. those who have already suffered a heart attack. People with known heart disease and an implanted defibrillator can also be affected. In principle, however, any other disease that causes cardiac arrhythmias, such as congenital heart defects, can also be the cause. “The majority of those affected had a long-standing disease of the coronary arteries, coronary heart disease (CHD),” explains the German Heart Foundation.

Are there any warning signs of cardiac death risk that one should pay attention to?

There are warning signs. According to the German Heart Foundation, these include:

  • Short periods of unconsciousness, especially with specific triggers such as stress, shrill alarm clocks, exercise
  • Seizures without clear pathological findings (such as epilepsy) on electroencephalography (EEG)
  • sudden unexplained deaths at a young age in the family
  • unexplained car accident (even if epilepsy is known)
  • Heart failure (heart failure) and/or need for a pacemaker before the age of 50
  • Further harbingers can be found on the listed.

How common is sudden cardiac death?

According to figures from the DZHK, around one in five deaths caused by cardiovascular diseases in Germany can be attributed to sudden cardiac death. Every year around 65,000 people in this country die from sudden cardiac death. Older people in particular are affected – but not only. Younger, athletic people under the age of 40 can also die from sudden cardiac death. Known congenital heart diseases or heavy physical stress, such as competitive sports, are often the cause. Many of these deaths of young sufferers could be avoided “if those affected and their families, for example in the case of a hereditary predisposition, knew about their risk of ‘second death’ and were under medical care,” the German Heart Foundation quotes its CEO, the heart specialist, as saying Thomas Voigtlander.

How can you prevent sudden cardiac death?

The best defense is proper prevention through regular visits to the doctor. This means that illnesses can be discovered in a timely manner and treated accordingly. Since the most common cause of sudden cardiac arrest is a heart attack, risk factors that promote this should be avoided. These include: obesity, smoking and elevated cholesterol and blood pressure levels.

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Source: Stern

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