Sudden Cardiac Death

Since sudden cardiac death occurs around 150,000 times a year in Germany, it is one of the most common causes of death. Sudden cardiac death is particularly tragic in young people and also affects healthy people, such as athletes. In the following, sudden cardiac death is described in more detail, what causes it can have, how it is diagnosed and how it can be treated and prevented.

Sudden Cardiac Death

What is sudden cardiac death?

Sudden cardiac death is defined as death that occurs unexpectedly and is caused by the heart. It is often associated with heart disease and is associated with loss of consciousness.

Sudden cardiac death occurs in 80% of cases after heavy physical exertion. According to statistics, sudden cardiac death ranks ahead of cancer and stroke as the leading causes of death. See polyhobbies for Meanings of Hip Arthrosis.

However, this cause of death is underestimated by the public. Sudden cardiac death is more common with age, with men being affected more often than women. In most cases, a cardiovascular disorder or a cardiac arrhythmia is already present before sudden cardiac death.

The heart can no longer receive regular impulses and can increase to an abnormally high beats per minute (up to 500 beats per minute). This leads to ventricular fibrillation, which in turn leads to heart failure. Without treatment, the circulatory system breaks down after a few seconds and unconsciousness occurs after about a minute. After around 10 minutes, the patient can be declared brain dead.


Sudden cardiac death has a variety of causes. The most common cause is cardiac arrhythmia. Risk factors that could promote sudden cardiac death are, for example, coronary heart disease, previous heart attacks, cardiac output weaknesses under stress or even at rest, a previous cardiovascular arrest, (additionally) older age, high blood pressure, diabetes mellitus, smoking and heavy alcohol consumption and insufficient exercise.

In young adults, however, other causes are more prominent, for example hereditary factors or heart muscle inflammation. If the risk factors mentioned already exist, excessive stress can also trigger sudden cardiac death, even though the person is doing enough physical activity.

Such cases are known from the media. Well-known soccer players or ice hockey players fall down in the middle of the game and cannot be revived. The reason is usually insufficient bed rest or recovery from simple colds with fever, which can subsequently lead to heart muscle inflammation with additional physical stress (e.g. training despite the flu). If this heart disease is not discovered or not taken seriously, sudden cardiac death can occur sooner or later.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

In the event of sudden cardiac death, those affected lose consciousness and die within a few minutes. Before that, however, warning signs appear that indicate a serious illness. In half of those affected, cardiac arrest is announced by pain in the chest. Shortness of breath, palpitations and flu-like symptoms are also possible signs.

People who have had a heart attack in the past often experience rapid heartbeat in the hours and minutes leading up to cardiac arrest. Many sufferers notice an unusual feeling of tightness in the chest, accompanied by shortness of breath and general weakness. Dizziness and fainting spells complete the symptom complex of sudden cardiac death.

The symptoms usually become noticeable a few hours to days before sudden cardiac death. In most cases, the signs appear several times, with increasing intensity and duration. If these warning signs are ignored, cardiac arrest will eventually occur. At this point, a pulse can no longer be felt and the affected person no longer reacts to external stimuli. The pupils are dilated and the skin on the mucous membranes and fingernails takes on a dark gray colour. Breathing stops after just 30 to 60 seconds, and finally instant death.

Diagnosis & History

Since sudden cardiac death is associated with a standstill of the cardiovascular system, the diagnosis can be made on the basis of unconsciousness and no pulse.

This is an emergency that requires immediate resuscitation. In the event of sudden cardiac death, it is very rare for an ECG machine to be nearby to diagnose an arrhythmia.

According to statistics, a sudden cardiac death shows a rather unfavorable course. The survival rate is around 3 to 8%. The course depends above all on how quickly immediate life-saving measures can be taken. In America, for example, since there are defibrillators in many public facilities, the survival rate is much higher there.


As a rule, sudden cardiac death is itself a complication and usually leads to the death of the person concerned if the patient is not treated quickly and immediately. Those affected suffer from severe heart pain and also from a feeling of anxiety. It is not uncommon for dizziness or shortness of breath to occur.

Disturbances of consciousness can also be associated with cardiac death, so that the person concerned completely loses consciousness and possibly injures himself in the event of a stub. Likewise, cardiac death without treatment leads to respiratory arrest. If the person concerned continues to go untreated, death usually occurs or the internal organs and the brain are irreversibly damaged.

The patient’s skin appears pale and the affected person no longer moves. In the event of cardiac death, a defibrillator must be used to save the patient’s life. Furthermore, outpatient treatment takes place, which usually ends in a surgical procedure. It is usually not possible to predict whether this will lead to a positive course of the disease.

When should you go to the doctor?

Sudden cardiac death is a dramatic acute event that needs to be dealt with by a doctor immediately. But even after a successful resuscitation, there are reasons for numerous visits to the doctor.

First of all, the defibrillator, which is used in many cases after sudden cardiac death, is regularly checked for functionality. It’s also important to see a doctor whenever you’re experiencing unusual symptoms, especially if they’re new or severe. Contact persons in this context are the general practitioner, but also the treating internist or cardiologist. In acute cases, the emergency room of the nearest hospital should be consulted.

In many cases, surviving sudden cardiac death is also a major psychological burden for the patient. Psychological support is therefore necessary in many cases in order to restore the quality of life of those affected. Talking to your family doctor can be just as helpful as referral to a psychotherapist. It can also help to regain confidence in the performance of your own body with dosed training. This is possible with sports and physiotherapists or as part of a special rehabilitation group.

Hearts that are structurally diseased are particularly susceptible to infection. Therefore, the flu or a similarly severe infection is a reason to see a doctor in order to identify or avoid cardiac involvement.

Treatment & Therapy

Sudden cardiac death requires immediate life-saving therapy. This is the only way to prevent the death that follows. The defibrillator briefly gives the affected person a strong electric shock, which causes the heart to “restart” and normal electrical heart activity can take place again.

Another option is cardiac massage, which everyone should do in an emergency. If sudden cardiac death can be prevented in this way, the subsequent therapy depends on the underlying disease. A stent or bypass operation is often carried out, which is intended to widen the narrowed vessels again.


Sudden cardiac death can be prevented by paying special attention to early symptoms and identifying risk factors, even in the absence of known heart disease.

Because if you eat healthily and do enough and appropriate physical activity, sudden cardiac death is less likely. Anyone who already suffers from heart disease should therefore pay even more attention to risk factors such as smoking or an unhealthy diet.

There are also treatment options, such as the implantable defibrillator, which can be considered for an abnormal heart rhythm. But even patients who have already suffered a cardiovascular arrest, such a method can offer relatively large protection against the fatal outcome.


If medical help reaches a cardiac death patient in time and resuscitation is successful, then follow-up care must be carried out. There is a risk that the life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia will lead to sudden death again. The doctor orders an EKG and uses X-rays to look for changes in the heart and lungs.

The question of an operative correction arises. Heart disease leads to regular follow-up checks in order to prevent possible complications at an early stage. Doctor and patient determine an individual rhythm, according to which a resting and stress ECG is carried out.

In principle, the patient bears a high degree of personal responsibility in order to prevent another life-threatening situation. The doctor provides information about the extent to which the person concerned needs to reorganize their life. A change in diet and the reduction of excess weight are conceivable. But also the renunciation or reduced consumption of cigarettes and alcohol contributes to recovery. Sometimes even a career change is indicated.

You can do that yourself

Sudden cardiac death is an event that the patient can hardly predict or influence. Even after surviving sudden cardiac death, the possibilities for self-help are very limited, since an implanted defibrillator usually offers a protective effect. However, there are some self-help options that the patient can take to heart. In the case of a serious clinical picture such as PHT, they must always be discussed with the treating cardiologist.

Self-help around heart disease has a lot to do with a healthy lifestyle. This includes exercise, the intensity of which is determined by the cardiologist. Sport and stress should be stopped immediately if a feverish infection develops. This could damage a heart and structural heart disease can promote sudden cardiac death. Infections must also be cured with regard to the ability to work.

After surviving PHT, the function of the defibrillator, which is inserted in the patient’s chest, must be checked regularly. In addition, heart examinations by the cardiologist must be carried out conscientiously. The psychological regeneration after the PHT is just as important as the physical component. The awareness of having survived cardiac death can be distressing. Psychotherapy can help with processing. In addition, relaxation methods or yoga can effectively accompany self-help in everyday life. Exercise not only strengthens the body. It also serves to rebuild self-confidence in your own body.