What is sudden cardiac death?

Sudden cardiac death (also known as sudden cardiac arrest) is most commonly caused by a rapid, erratic heart rhythm. If not treated, death occurs within minutes. Approximately 95% of people do not survive sudden cardiac death.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is different from a heart attack. A heart attack results when blood flow is blocked to part of the heart muscle. SCD occurs when the electrical impulses that control the heart’s rhythm speed up and/or become chaotic.

Who is at risk?

People who’ve been treated for heart attacks and chronic heart failure are at greatly increased risk for SCD. High-risk patients are defined as those who have an ejection fraction (the amount of blood ejected from the heart during each beat) of less than 35%. But SCD can—and does—happen in people who look and feel healthy and who have not been diagnosed with heart disease or other risk factors.

People who’ve been treated for heart attacks and congestive heart failure have a greater chance of sudden cardiac death (SCD) – death as a result of a chaotically beating heart. Many such patients don’t get the follow-up care they need to determine their risk for SCD. Dr. Robert Hull, a WVU Medicine electrophysiologist, discusses SCD to help people understand the issue.

How can you avoid SCD?

Heart doctors called electrophysiologists perform tests that show if a person is at increased risk. An implantable defibrillator device (ICD) can reduce the chance of SCD. The ICD monitors the heart for abnormal rhythms and delivers an electrical shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.

People who have been hospitalized for a coronary intervention (such as angioplasty), coronary bypass, or a newly diagnosed heart failure should be re-evaluated 90 days after they are discharged. A patient who has suffered a heart attack should be re-evaluated at 40 days. This delay gives the heart time to heal and can make preventive procedures safer. If the heart is still weak, an ICD may be needed to reduce the chance of sudden cardiac death.

What else can you do?

A heart-healthy lifestyle—regular exercise, avoiding smoking, eating a healthy diet, and staying at a healthy weight—can help reduce the risk of SCD and other heart disease. It also helps to treat conditions that contribute to heart problems, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.

To learn more about sudden cardiac death, visit the American Heart Association’s Sudden Cardiac Death page.

The Heart Rhythm Society has a sudden cardiac death risk assessment tool. Visit their website to learn more.

Mohamad Alkhouli, MD

Interventional Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Ahmad Arham, MD

MD, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; MD, Heart and Vascular Institute - Fairmont
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Vinay Badhwar, MD, FACS, FACC

Gordon F. Murray Professor and Executive Chair; Chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery, WVU Heart and Vascular Institute - Administration
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Chalak Berzingi, MD

Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; MD, Medicine; Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Elkins
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Robert James Beto, MD, FACC, FSCAI

Associate Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine
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Bryan Bush, MD

, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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David Church, MD

Assistant Professor, Medicine; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Bridgeport
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Samantha Crites, DO

Fellow, Medicine; Non-Invasive Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Alexandre C. d'Audiffret, MD

Associate Professor; Program Director, Vascular Surgery Fellowship, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Jared Feyko, DO

Instructor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Walid Gharib, MD

Interventional Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute – Glen Dale; Fellow, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Fellow, Medicine
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Khumara Huseynova, MD

Assistant Professor of Surgery, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Abnash Jain, MD, FACP, FACC, FSCAI

Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine
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Jonathan Lanham, MD

Interventional Cardiologist, Medicine; Interventional Cardiologist, WVU Heart and Vascular Institute - Administration; Interventional Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute – Oakland, MD
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Gerardo Lopez, MD

Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Bridgeport; Assistant Professor, Medicine
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Luke Marone, MD

Co-Director Heart and Vascular Institute, WVU Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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James D. Mills, MD, FACC

Non-invasive Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; MD, Medicine; Non-Invasive Cardiologist, Heart and Vascular Institute - Grafton
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Jason Moreland, MD, FACC, FSCAI

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine
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Anthony Morise, MD, FACC

Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine
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Takashi Murashita, MD

Clinical Instructor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Olusola Oduntan, MD

Assistant Professor, WVU Cancer Institute Clinics; Associate Professor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Lakshmikumar Pillai, MD

Associate Professor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Sameer Raina, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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J. Scott Rankin, MD

, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Bryan Raybuck, MD

Co-Director, HVI Outreach, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Anthony J. Roda-Renzelli, MD, FACC

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine; Cardiology, Heart and Vascular Institute - Grafton
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Stanley B. Schmidt, MD, FACC

Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine
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Donald Siddoway, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute – Connellsville, PA
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David Tingler, MD

Assistant Professor of Medicine, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown; Cardiology, Medicine; Cardiology, Heart and Vascular Institute - Fairmont
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Kevin Tveter, MD

Assistant Professor, WVU Cancer Institute Clinics; Assistant Professor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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Lawrence Wei, MD

Associate Professor, Cardiac Rehabilitation
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Pamela Zimmerman, MD

Associate Professor, Heart and Vascular Institute - Morgantown
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