The Fallacy: A Heart Attack = Sudden Cardiac Arrest
The good news: Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a hot topic in media around the USA-news is spreading quickly that SCA kills more than 350,000 Americans each year; the bad news: the media doesn’t understand what SCA is. Almost daily articles are written in the media inferring (or explicitly stating) that SCA is the same as a heart attack. What’s worse, this fallacy is perpetuated by competitors on their websites and throughout their print collateral, which makes educating the public an interesting challenge.
My analogous (and also false) statement, which is far from perfect, is this: motor vehicle collision deaths are equivalent to trauma-related deaths. Yes, it is true that motor vehicle collision deaths make up a very large portion of traumatic deaths. However, it is not true that all traumatic deaths can be attributed to motor vehicle collisions; some traumatic deaths are caused by sports, violence, machine accidents, and a litany of other causes.
You may ask, “Why does it matter what SCA really means-isn’t the most important piece that awareness if being generated?” My emphatic answer is, “NO.” So, why is this topic tremendously important and why am I emphatically answering “NO”? This fallacy, which so many to believe to be a matter of semantics, neglects to account for more than 100,000 people per year who are dying of non-heart-attack-related SCA each year, which, by the way, is still more people than die of breast cancer, prostate cancer, suicide, and HIV-all combined! Furthermore, SCA affects a larger cross-section of individuals including children, adults, men, woman, and people of all ages. It is important because the definitive treatment for the heart rhythms that typically follow sudden cardiac arrest (ventricular fibrillation and pulseless ventricular tachycardia) is defibrillation.
Here is a common scenario we face when trying to make Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) available for public use. A school district board vetoes the district nurse’s recommendation for an AED Program because they are not concerned that the one of their children will need an AED, since they will not likely suffer from a “heart attack.” The board is clearly operating under the assumption that defibrillators save people that are having heart attacks. The fact is that thousands of children die of sudden cardiac arrest each year in the US.
What is a heart attack? A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, is when the heart muscle does not receive a sufficient amount of oxygenated blood, which is vital to keep that muscle alive and beating. The decreased amount of oxygenated blood is caused by a blocked blood vessel that feeds the heart and results in irreversible death of the muscle. This muscle death could certainly lead to an irregular heart rhythm and cardiac arrest, but it is important to remember that there are also other causes of cardiac arrest.
For example, Sudden Cardiac Arrest can be caused by a whole host of conditions including metabolic issues (such as imbalances in electrolytes), medication/illicit drug overdoses, congenital heart defects (both anatomical and electrophysiological), trauma or significant blood loss, blunt force trauma to the chest, lack of oxygen (caused by airway obstructions or respiratory problems), and many other regular and frequent injuries and illnesses.
Maybe end with the signs and symptoms of each (chest pain, shortness of breath vs. collapse) and treatments (stints and surgery vs. defibrillation).
RN, BSN, BA, AHA TCF
Cheif Executive Officer, ANNUVIA