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Sudden cardiac arrest awareness | Heart Safe Communities | Allina Health

Sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is usually caused by an electrical malfunction of the heart called ventricular fibrillation.

Ventricular fibrillation causes a quivering of the heart muscle that makes it unable to pump blood through the body. Once the blood stops circulating, a person quickly loses consciousness and the ability to breathe, and will die without effective treatment.

More people die of sudden cardiac arrest than lung cancer, breast cancer and AIDS combined. Two sudden cardiac arrest victims share how automated external defibrillators (AEDs) saved their lives.

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For more about sudden cardiac arrest,
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What is the treatment for sudden cardiac arrest?

The only effective treatment is an electric shock to the heart called defibrillation. The electrical current can interrupt ventricular fibrillation and allow the heart's normal rhythm to regain control.

Defibrillation is most effective if it is applied within three to five minutes into sudden cardiac arrest. With each passing minute, the likelihood of recovery drops about 10 percent. After 10 minutes, one's chance of survival falls to about 2 percent.

While defibrillation with an automated external defibrillator (AED) is important, we also encourage immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). If you are hesitant or unwilling to do mouth-to-mouth breathing, immediately begin "hands only" or "compression only" CPR.  This can improve the success of the AED and improve chances of survival.

People who survive sudden cardiac arrest have a 30 to 50 percent chance of having a second one. That is why they are often referred to an electrophysiologist, a heart rhythm specialist, to receive an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).

How common is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can happen to anyone, anywhere, any time. Every day in the United States, it strikes about 1,000 people. Tragically, almost all of them die, making SCA a leading causes of death. In fact, some experts commonly refer to it as sudden cardiac death.

Is sudden cardiac arrest the same as a heart attack?


Sudden cardiac arrest is usually caused by ventricular fibrillation, an electrical malfunction of the heart.

A heart attack occurs when plaque or clots block blood flow to the heart. Although the heart continues to beat, irreversible damage to the heart muscle begins within 15 to 30 minutes. The longer the blood flow is interrupted, the more extensive the damage done. Treatment for heart attack includes angioplasty – using a tiny balloon to widen blocked vessels – and 'clot-busting' drugs known as thrombolytics.

Source: American Heart Association; Darren Boser, Lance Stephenson, A Heart for the Community: Public Access Defibrillation and the HeartSave Awareness Program, Access Medical Incorporated 2003
Reviewed by: Charles Lick, MD, medical director, Allina Health Emergency Medical Services
First Published: 05/06/2004
Last Reviewed: 02/19/2007

Ham Lake dad saves son's life on soccer field

Twelve-year-old Tucker Manske was playing soccer for his Andover Middle School team, when he went into full cardiac arrest. The first to run to his rescue was his father Todd, who yelled for someone to go get the AED out of the school. The portable defibrillator device was there thanks to Heart Safe Communities.

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Three cardiac arrest survivors meet their heroes

Arleen Meyers, Barbara Stone and Scott Santee -- three sudden cardiac arrest survivors from Buffalo, Minnesota -- thanked the 28 civilians, first responders and Allina Health ambulance crews and dispatchers who played a role in saving their lives this year.

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Gene Johnson died September 11, 2002.

Gene Johnson suffered sudden cardiac arrest in the front yard of his home in New Brighton, Minnesota.

Today, Johnson is living proof of the importance of a public access AED program. His neighbors kicked off New Brighton's AED fundraising campaign with a heart walk that raised $6,000.

arrow points to link to sudden cardiac arrest survivor website The Minnesota SCA Survivor Network has more stories at