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Sudden Death: Silent Attack Not Well Known September 12, 2008

FOR MORE INFORMATION, contact Erica Cline at 706/828-2225.

Sudden Death: Silent Attack Not Well Known

AUGUSTA – With sudden cardiac death, a person is alive one minute and gone the next. But technology exists that can help increase the survival rates of these patients.

“Sudden cardiac death is death that occurs, for instance, in someone who has a weakened heart due to a previous heart attack,” said David Clark, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist who practices at University Hospital. “And at some point in the future, which no one can predict, many of those patients will develop a life-threatening irregular heart rhythm that causes the heart to stop pumping, and they die suddenly.”

Past heart attack patients, however, are not the only ones at risk for sudden cardiac death.

Dr. Clark said that people with genetically enlarged hearts that include a thickened wall and those whose enlarged heart may have been caused by a virus also are at risk.

“If your heart strength is 35 percent or less – the normal is 50 percent or higher – then you are at increased risk of dying suddenly from a life-threatening heart rhythm problem,” he said. “There are no warning signs – no chest pain, no shortness of breath. You’re fine one second, and the next second you’re dead.”

The problem with sudden cardiac death is that because there are no warning signs and it happens so quickly, there often is little to no chance for medical intervention. That’s where the Automatic Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (AICD) comes in.

Unlike a pacemaker, which helps regulate irregular heartbeats, the AICD actually shocks the heart back into rhythm should it stop.

“What the defibrillator does is that it monitors the heart 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dr. Clark said. “The defibrillator will recognize an abnormal heart beat within two seconds and immediately deliver a life-saving electrical shock inside the heart to restore the heartbeat and save their life.”

For more information about University Hospital’s Cardiovascular Services, log on to www.universityhealth.org/heart.

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