When the Heart Stops Beating: 3 Facts to Know About Sudden Cardiac Arrest

man holding onto his chest“My heart stopped beating.” is usually a line that’s thrown loosely in romance novels and love songs. But what does it exactly mean for the heart to stop — in the literal sense? Here are facts about sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), the condition where the heart stops working:

It happens due to irregular heartbeats

To understand how the heart develops irregular heartbeats, you first have to know a few things about the anatomy of the heart and cardiology. Beaver health experts explain that the heart has its own electrical system, which is called the sinus node. This part of the body produces electrical impulses, which synchronize the heart rate and make normal blood flow possible.

When there’s a problem in the flow of electrical impulses, the heart beats too fast or too slow. These irregular heartbeats are called arrhythmia. In some instances, these happen briefly with no major repercussions on health. But some cases are serious, in which the heart stops functioning completely.

Or, it may result from medical conditions

Arrhythmia usually occurs when there’s already a pre-existing heart problem, like coronary artery disease. In this condition, the arteries are blocked with plaque, or cholesterol-rich deposits, causing an inadequate supply of blood to the heart. Reduced blood flow disturbs electrical impulses, eventually leading to irregular heart rhythms. Some also develop arrhythmia from an enlarged heart. This is often characterized by heart tissue damage, which also causes the abnormal heartbeats.

It occurs without warning

There’s a reason it’s called sudden cardiac arrest. It happens suddenly, with no warning. The person experiencing it will abruptly collapse and show no signs of a pulse, breathing, or consciousness.

In some cases, though, patients will feel lightheaded and experience shortness before they faint. Others will struggle with chest pain, palpitations, or vomiting. It’s important to call for help immediately. Remember that it only takes minutes for brain damage to occur when there’s no blood supply to the brain.

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Although a famous line, a “heart that stopped beating” can be fatal in the literal, medical sense. Consult your doctor if you’re at risk for this health condition.