Why do apparently healthy people collapse and die without warning? Almost everyone has heard of or known someone who suffered “sudden death,” Someone that seems to be a relatively young and healthy person can just “drop dead.” The high number of cases of sudden death in Nigeria, particularly amongst the productive male and female age-groups, is worrisome and even though medical experts blame it all on the poor health status of the populace,
The Nigeria Medical Association, NMA, once called for a national check-up day for all Nigerians to promote healthy living through compulsory, regular health screenings. Such checks, the body said, should be done at least once every six months. Incidents of persons that were “hale and hearty” with no signs or symptoms of illness, but “slumping” and “dying suddenly,” persist, notably among young adults and the middle-aged. Men and women of all social classes are affected and questions are being asked about the phenomenon. Among the causes of these sudden deaths is the condition known as Sudden Cardiac Death, which from a clinical perspective represents a public health threat among cardiovascular deaths in the country. Sudden Cardiac Death is unexpected death caused when the heart stops functioning. Several adult deaths from this are reported each year, it is one of the commonest causes of heart disease-related deaths. It is sudden, unexpected death caused by loss of heart function. It is responsible for a significant number of heart disease deaths. It occurs most frequently in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s and affects men twice as often as women. Sudden Cardiac Death is not a heart attack. In a heart attack, there is a blockage of blood flow to the heart, causing damage to the heart muscle, resulting in the heart attack. With a Sudden Cardiac Death, the electrical system that powers the heart stops operating properly, and the heart begins to beat extremely quickly. The electrical system to the heart malfunctions and suddenly becomes very irregular. The heart beats dangerously fast. Because of how fast the heart is beating, it’s not getting blood out to the body—oftentimes resulting in unconsciousness because blood isn’t getting to the brain. In the first few minutes, this is the greatest concern. Death follows unless emergency treatment is begun immediately.
There are many stories of younger people suffering Sudden Cardiac Death while engaged in athletic activities. Cases of enlarged hearts are a common cause that often goes undetected. Other risk factors include heart arteries that have grown abnormally that create difficulties. Also, heart rhythm disorders can lead to rapid heartbeat patterns, causing fainting and possibly Sudden Cardiac Death. Generally, the risk factors for Sudden Cardiac Death include a previous heart attack (especially within the six months after a heart attack); coronary artery disease (triggered by smoking, family history, high cholesterol, etc.) and history of fainting. Others are a family history of the disorder; obesity; diabetes, recreational drug use and heart failure (extremely weak pumping from heart). Immediate action is crucial. Survival is high if treatment is initiated within five minutes of the cardiac arrest and proper performance of CPR. There is the option to have an Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator implanted. It is a preventative treatment that can also be used for survivors. Surgeries can also be performed to help improve blood flow to the heart. Emergency treatment includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation. CPR keeps enough oxygen in the lungs and gets it to the brain until the normal heart rhythm is restored with an electric shock to the chest (defibrillation). Portable defibrillators used by emergency personnel, or public access defibrillators may help save the person’s life. The symptoms vary. Some people may experience a racing heartbeat or dizziness. In over half of the cases, however, sudden cardiac arrest occurs without prior symptoms. Most sudden cardiac deaths are caused by abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias. The most common life-threatening arrhythmia is ventricular fibrillation, which is an erratic, disorganised firing of impulses from the ventricles (the heart’s lower chambers). When this occurs, the heart is unable to pump blood and death will occur within minutes, if left untreated. A previous heart attack is significant. A person’s risk of Sudden Cardiac Death is higher during the first six months after a heart attack. Coronary artery disease is also a strong factor. Other risk factors for coronary artery disease include smoking, family history of cardiovascular disease, high cholesterol or an enlarged heart, prior episode of sudden cardiac arrest, family history of sudden cardiac arrest or Sudden Cardiac Death, etc. Most cases are related to undetected cardiovascular disease. In the younger population, Sudden Cardiac Death is often due to congenital heart defects, while in older athletes (35 years and older), the cause is more often related to coronary artery disease. Men aged 40 and older and women aged 50 and older should have an exercise stress test and receive education about cardiac risk factors and symptoms. If heart problems are identified or suspected, the athlete should be referred to a cardiologist for further evaluation and treatment guidelines before For patients who have great risk, an ICD may be inserted as a preventive treatment. An ICD is a small machine similar to a pacemaker that is designed to correct arrhythmias. It detects and then corrects a fast heart rate. The ICD may be used in patients who have survived sudden cardiac arrest and need their heart rhythms constantly monitored. It may also be combined with a pacemaker to treat other underlying irregular heart rhythms. Tip: Know your risk factors. Know your family history. Inform those around you about what to do. And make the changes necessary to reduce your personal risk.Educate your family members. If you are at risk for SCD, talk to your family members so they understand your condition and the importance of seeking immediate care in the event of an emergency. Family members and friends of those at risk should know how to perform CPR.