Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can strike individuals of any age at any time. In fact, SCA is one of the leading causes of death, resulting in more than 250,000 deaths/year in the United States. That's one every two minutes. Even a seemingly healthy person can suffer a cardiac arrest without warning. According to the American Heart Association, as many as 50% of SCA victims have no prior indication of heart disease. Their first symptom is cardiac arrest!
SCA causes death due to an abrupt loss of heart function. When SCA occurs, most victims have an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF). When the heart is in this state, it cannot beat in a coordinated effort and blood does not circulate.
Ventricular fibrillation is a treatable rhythm. The cure is immediate treatment with a defibrillator, a device that shocks the heart out of the fatal rhythm and allows normal function to resume. The success of the treatment is highly time-dependent, as the chance of survival for victims of SCA declines by 10% for each minute that passes without defibrillation. Thus, if an individual suffers SCA and does not receive defibrillation within 10 minutes, the probability of survival is almost zero.
Currently, 5 to 7% of SCA victims survive nationwide. Research has shown that four actions can increase the chance of survival. These actions are known as the Chain of Survival. The four links in the chain are: Early Access, Early CPR, Early Defibrillation and Early Advanced Care. The Wake County EMS System, in cooperation with the American Heart Association, local hospitals, and individuals from the community, are working to strengthen all four links in the chain of survival.