Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a potentially fatal condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating.  It is usually caused by ventricular fibrillation, an abnormality in the heart’s electrical system.  When SCA occurs, blood stops flowing to the brain, heart and other vital organs, causing loss of consciousness or seizure-like activity in a matter of seconds.  The victim is clinically dead and will remain so unless someone helps immediately.

Normal heart rhythm can only be restored with defibrillation, which is an electrical shock that is safely delivered to the chest by an automated external defibrillator (AED).

SCA is the No. 1 killer of Americans over the age of 40, but it does not discriminate based on age.  The American Heart Association estimates about 9,500 youths are affected by SCA annually, making it the leading cause of death in the United States for student-athletes during exercise.  In fact, the death rate for youth SCA events is reportedly as high as 95%.


Myth: AEDS are expensive or hard to obtain.2017-07-10T05:19:19+00:00

Fact:  Most AEDs cost about $1,000, depending on the brand.  A simple internet search can identify a local vendor who will provide numerous choices of manufacturers.  Many companies offer CPR training and ongoing AED maintenance as part of their service.

Myth: The chest must be dry in order for the AED pads to work.2017-07-10T05:18:32+00:00

Fact:  The chest should be as dry as possible for the strongest and safest delivery of a shock.  If possible, quickly dry off the chest, but DO NOT delay defibrillation if the AED suggests a shock is required.

Myth: AEDs can hurt people by shocking them inappropriately2017-07-10T05:17:34+00:00

Fact:  People in cardiac arrest are clinically dead.  Your actions can only help.  AEDs are safe and effective and will not shock the heart unless a shock is medically needed to restore a heartbeat.  The AED makes the choice to apply the shock, not the user.

Myth: Only trained personnel are allowed to us AEDs.2017-07-10T05:16:59+00:00

Fact:  AEDs can be used effectively by anyone who can follow simple visual and voice prompts.  According to a study by the University of Washington, a sixth-grader is smart enough to use an AED correctly.

Myth: Victims are better off waiting for professional help to arrive.2017-07-10T05:16:17+00:00

Fact:  For every one minute without an AED or CPR, the chance of survival decreases by 10%. It usually takes 6-8 minutes for EMS to arrive, which is often too late.

Myth: If I put the pads on wrong, or make another mistake, I will get sued.2017-07-10T05:13:11+00:00

Fact:  The AED pads have pictures that explain where to apply the pads.  If the pads are not properly applied, the AED will ask the user to correct their placement.    Generally speaking, our legal system provides nationwide Good Samaritan protection, exempting anyone from liability who renders emergency treatment with a defibrillator in an effort to save someone’s life.


SCA in a young person usually stems from a structural defect or electrical diseases of the heart, which are most often hereditary.  Common pre-existing conditions include:

  • Thickening of the heart muscle (e.g., Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, Arrhythmogenic Right Ventricular Dysplasia)
  • Heart attack. (A reduced or blocked blood flow to the heart muscle)
  • Heart Rhythm disorders (e.g., Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome, Wolff Parkinson White syndrome)
  • Heart valve disorders (e.g., Mitral Valve Prolapse)

 Other causes of SCA among people who do not have heart disease include recreational drug use, electrocution, disruption of the heart rhythm due to a sudden blow to the chest, and the use of energy drinks.


SCA is very different from a heart attack, also known as myocardial infarction, resulting from the partial interruption of blood supply into the heart, causing the heart muscle to die. With a heart attack, it is often preceded with jaw, chest, arm, upper abdomen pain. Nausea and sweating are common. (1) SCA rarely has warning signs and the victim often loses consciousness, with an 8 percent survival rate. When a person is having a heart attack, they usually remain conscious and alert. With proper treatment many people survive. SCA can be successfully treated in many victims by using an automated external defibrillator (AED), but time is critical. (1)Survival rates between 40-50 percent have been achieved where AED programs have been successfully implemented.


Each year, more than 300,000 people in the U.S. experience EMS-assessed, out-of-hospital, non-traumatic SCA, and 9 out of 10 victims die.  This is roughly the equivalent to the number of people who die from Alzheimer’s disease, assault with firearms, breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, diabetes, HIV, house fires, motor vehicle accidents, prostate cancer and suicides combined.  (Source:  Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation)