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Being at risk of Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is not the same as being at risk of a ‘heart attack’. Do you know the difference?

10 May 2013

A heart attack occurs when one or more of the arteries delivering blood to the heart is blocked. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when your heart beats so fast it quivers instead of pumping blood to the body and brain. In short, a heart attack is associated with a plumbing problem in the heart, whereas cardiac arrest is a problem with the electricity of the heart. While heart attack victims typically experience symptoms prior to an emergency, around 50 percent of deaths from Sudden Cardiac Arrest occur without prior signs or symptoms and many appear as healthy individuals.*

It is estimated that each year, almost 10,000 Australians die of heart attack.* Approximately three times this number (30,000), will die of a sudden cardiac arrest.*

Around 25 percent of people who die from a heart attack die within the first hour of their first symptom. 95 percent of sudden cardiac arrest victims die before reaching the hospital.*

Whether a person experiences a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest – every minute counts, so it’s important to act quickly.

In the case of a heart attack, the earlier blood flow can be restored to the heart, the greater the potential to minimise heart damage and therefore improve chance of survival. Therapy requires emergency treatment by trained healthcare professionals to open the blocked artery. It is most successful if delivered within 90 minutes of the first symptom.*

Defibrillation (either by an Automated External Defibrillator or an Implantable Cardiac Defibrillator) is the only definitive treatment for sudden cardiac arrest to restore normal heart rhythm. Chance of survival decreases 7-10 percent for every minute defibrillation is delayed.*

Use of an external defibrillator relies on having the device nearby when you have an attack and someone that can use it. With an implantable defibrillator, a small device is implanted under your skin, typically on the left or right side of your chest, just below the collarbone, meaning you never leave home without it.

If you have a family history of cardiac conditions or think you may be at risk of either a heart attack or SCA, please speak to your healthcare professional.

Australian story: View the experience of one Australian family who overcame sudden cardiac arrest.

*References available upon request

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