Heart Conditions that Can Lead to Sudden Cardiac Arrest

What causes sudden cardiac arrest?

As you may know, American Heart Month is celebrated all February long making it the perfect time to educate yourself on the types of heart conditions that could potentially lead to a life-threatening emergency like sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by a malfunction of the heart’s electrical system causing an irregular heartbeat, or an arrhythmia affecting the heart’s ability to pump blood leading to heart failure. SCA requires immediate treatment.

Often these irregular heartbeats are short and harmless, but other times can lead to sudden cardiac arrest. The most common irregular heart rhythm during SCA is ventricular fibrillation, an arrhythmia in the ventricle chamber, which is the lower chamber of your heart.5 When the lower heart chambers contract in this rapid uncoordinated manner, blood is unable to get to the brain, lungs, and other vital organs causing the body to shut down in minutes.

(Mayo Clinic, 2021)

What conditions can lead to sudden cardiac death?  

While sudden cardiac arrest can happen in people who have no known heart disease, a life-threatening arrhythmia usually develops in a person with a preexisting, but possibly undiagnosed heart condition. These conditions include:

  • Coronary artery disease (ischemic heart disease)
  • Heart attack
  • Enlarged heart/ thickened heart muscle (cardiomyopathy)
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Heart defect present at birth (congenital heart disease)
  • Electrical problems in the heart 4

What are the risk factors?

Sudden cardiac arrest is often linked with the most common type of heart disease in the United States: coronary artery disease, which is when built-up cholesterol deposits create a plaque build-up in the larger coronary arteries and artery walls. The plaque buildup narrows the artery walls over time, which can partially or totally block the oxygen-rich blood flow resulting in sudden cardiac arrest.2 Because sudden cardiac arrest and coronary artery disease go hand-in-hand, the same risk factors that put you at risk of coronary artery disease can also put you at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

The CDC states that half of all Americans, 47%, have at least 1 of the 3 top risk factors for heart disease.1

These risks include:

  • Family history
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • An inactive lifestyle


What can you do to prepare?

Knowing what heart conditions and risk factors lead to SCA is just the beginning. Even if you have no signs or history of heart disease, it’s important to have a preparation plan in place as SCA can happen to anyone at any time regardless of their medical history. To prepare for SCA, CPR and AED training are recommended, however, training is not required to use an AED device. These machines have voice prompts to assist you through the process, but the quicker CPR and an AED are administered, the higher the chance of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. Taking a CPR course or AED training and having an AED in your home or business can ensure that you are prepared and confident to act quickly in case of an emergency situation.


Related Article: What is AED? What is an AED?


Whether there’s an underlying heart disease or not, 350,000 adults and 16,000 children experience cardiac arrest each year and most of the time their survival is determined by what is done in the minutes of waiting for an ambulance to arrive.3 Start your preparation today by learning more about the many options we have for CPR and AED training courses.



1 CDC. (2019, December 9). Know your risk for heart disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/risk_factors.htm

2CDC. (2021, July 19). Coronary artery disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/coronary_ad.htm

3 Darria Gillespie, M. D. (2023). 5 lifesaving emergency tips. Sharecare. Retrieved January 11, 2023, from https://www.sharecare.com/first-aid-safety/5-lifesaving-emergency-tips

4 Mayo Clinic. (2021, November 2). Sudden cardiac arrest. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sudden-cardiac-arrest/symptoms-causes/syc-20350634

5 Mayo Clinic. (2022, October 28). Ventricular fibrillation. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved January 12, 2023, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/ventricular-fibrillation/symptoms-causes/syc-20364523


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *