3 Facts About Heart Disease That Might Save Your Life

(BPT) – Heart disease is the leading killer of men and women in the U.S. And while we’re frequently reminded about the importance of making healthy choices for prevention, there’s much less attention given to the risk that exists after heart disease diagnosis, including the risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD). In fact, half of all cardiovascular deaths are due to SCD, but that doesn’t have to be the case.[1] If heart disease impacts your family, there are a few things you should know about SCD that could save your life or the life of someone you love.

  1. The risk for sudden cardiac death (SCD) increases following a cardiac event, such as a heart attack or new diagnosis of heart failure. Each year, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack and 900,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed.[2],[3] After a cardiac event, damage to the patient’s heart may result in a weakened heart muscle, which impacts the heart’s ability to pump blood (known as ejection fraction or EF). A normal EF is 55-70 percent. Numerous studies have shown that a patient with an EF of 35 percent or less is at a higher risk for SCD.[4]
  2. SCD happens without warning, and it’s different than a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when an electrical malfunction causes the heart to stop beating effectively. When this happens, the heart is unable to pump oxygen-rich blood to the body and brain. SCA causes the victim to pass out suddenly, leaving them unable to call for help. Without treatment to correct the heart rhythm, death occurs within minutes. This is sudden cardiac death (SCD). It can happen any time, day or night. SCD is often confused with a heart attack, but they are very different. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked (more like a plumbing malfunction). A person having a heart attack may experience severe chest pain or other symptoms, but is likely to remain awake and able to call for help. This is not the case with SCD.
  3. Life-saving devices are helping heart patients known to be at risk of SCD. A defibrillator is a device that is used to control dangerous heart rhythms by applying an electrical shock to the heart. Heart patients with a long-term risk for SCD often receive an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD). There’s also a wearable cardioverter defibrillator (WCD) called the LifeVest WCD, which is a temporary therapy for patients at risk of SCD. After a heart attack or new diagnosis of heart failure, a patient’s condition can improve with treatments, medications, and lifestyle changes, but this recovery takes time. Numerous studies have shown that the risk of SCD is highest in the first few months after a cardiac event.[5],[6] For patients known to be at risk of SCD, a WCD can provide protection during their recovery, and before their doctor determines if they’ll need a permanent therapy, like an ICD. Worn against the skin, the WCD is designed to detect a rapid life-threatening heart rhythm and automatically deliver a treatment shock to save the patient’s life. Both the WCD and ICD are designed to provide defibrillation treatment automatically, so they do not require the assistance of another person or emergency personnel to save the patient’s life. This means the patient can receive life-saving treatment even if they are alone or asleep.

Joe Kicielinski is living proof that SCD can be prevented.

While fishing with his son, Joe Kicielinski found that he couldn’t walk without getting fatigued. After seeing his physician, he learned that he had experienced a heart attack; he then underwent a procedure to clear the blockage and restore blood flow. While in recovery, his cardiologist explained that his heart attack had weakened his heart muscle and he was now at risk for SCD. He was fitted with the LifeVest WCD for protection from SCD before he was discharged from the hospital and instructed to wear it at all times, only removing it for a short shower.

Four days later, Joe experienced a rapid life-threatening heart rhythm while asleep and his LifeVest WCD shocked his heart back into a normal rhythm, saving his life. Joe regained consciousness afterward and found that his wife had called 911. He was taken to the hospital, where he later received an ICD for long-term protection. Since the ordeal, Joe has a new perspective: “Every day is a great day.” And on a particularly great day, Joe and his wife got to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary on a trip to the Smoky Mountains with their three children and four grandchildren.

Almost everyone knows someone like Joe, whose life has been impacted by heart disease. By knowing the common risk factors for SCD and the treatment options available to heart patients, you might help save a life — maybe even your own. If you or someone you love has been impacted by heart disease, talk to your doctor about your risk for SCD.

[1] Al-Khatib SM, Stevenson WG, Ackerman MJ, et al. 2017 AHA/ACC/HRS guideline for management of patients with ventricular arrhythmias and the prevention of sudden cardiac death: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on clinical practices guidelines and the Heart Rhythm Society. Circulation. 2017; CIR.0000000000000549.

[4] Halkin A et al. Prediction of mortality after primary percutaneous coronary intervention for acute myocardial infarction: CADILLAC risk score. J Am Coll Cardiol 2005;45:1397–1405.

[5] Solomon SD et al. Sudden death in patients with myocardial infarction and left ventricular dysfunction, heart failure, or both. NEJM 2005;352:2581–2588.

[6] Adabag AS et al. Sudden death after myocardial infarction. JAMA 2008;300(17):2022–2029.

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