Symptoms of Sudden Cardiac Arrest | Cedars-Sinai
How to Identify Cardiac Arrest Warning Signs when Working Out
Cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, usually caused by an electrical disturbance to your heart. It is different from a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage. Exercise-related heart deaths account for only 5% of sudden cardiac arrest cases,so don't forego the many benefits of exercise because you fear this rare event. There are often no warning signs before a cardiac arrest; however, some people do experience warning signs, which tend to be similar to those of a heart attack. For instance, you might feel lightheaded or dizzy, nauseous, or pain in your chest.
Looking for Warning Signs
Monitor your energy levels.Working out can be tiring, and if you’re working out for a longer period of time, you’re likely to feel some degree of healthy exhaustion. But if you’re working out and feel totally fatigued or suddenly drained of energy, and cannot recover even after sitting down for a brief time, this could indicate a health problem, including heart disease. See your doctor for an evaluation as soon as possible.
Look for fainting.Fainting — also known as syncope or blackouts — is a condition characterized by a temporary and unwanted loss of consciousness. If you’re working out one minute then suddenly wake up on the ground the next, you’ve fainted. Contact emergency services for immediate evaluation.
- Several other conditions could produce fainting spells, so don't immediately assume you are on the verge of cardiac arrest.For instance, if you are diabetic or have arrhythmia, you might experience fainting. Even standing up too quickly can, in some cases, induce fainting. Whatever the reason, fainting warrants a visit to your doctor.
- You might feel short of breath just before you faint.
Keep an eye out for dizziness.Dizziness is the feeling that you are spinning or unstable. Some people describe dizziness as the feeling that their head is spinning. This can be another warning sign of cardiac arrest, though it can indicate many other underlying health issues as well. See your doctor as soon as possible.
- Dizziness might also be a product of your workout. Working out too hard, or working out in the sun, could produce dizziness.
- Sit down for five to 10 minutes and drink some water if you feel dizzy while working out. Ease back into your workout slowly or call it quits for the day.
- Milder forms of dizziness like feeling lightheaded or woozy are also potential precursors to cardiac arrest.
Stay conscious of chest pain.Pain in the chest — especially pain over the left side of the chest where the heart is located — is a warning sign that there may be a problem with your heart. Rest if you feel any chest pain not associated with whatever exercise you’re engaged in and see your doctor for evaluation.
Be aware of stomach pain.Nausea and vomiting sometimes precede cardiac arrest. If you feel queasy or actually throw up when working out, this is another sign that you need to see your doctor. Nausea and vomiting could be a sign of many different conditions, but it can sometimes occur before cardiac arrest.
Recognizing Risk Factors
Undergo a preparticipation physical evaluation (PPE) if you are a young athlete.This evaluation is done to identify any conditions that may predispose you to injury or illness and clear you for safe participation in sports. The evaluation will include questions about any symptoms and your family history as well as check for a heart murmur or symptoms of Marfan syndrome (an inherited condition that may lead to heart problems).
- You should have a PPE before engaging in a sport or exercise. Clearance to participate will depend on the results of the evaluation and may also depend on the type of sport or even the position you play.
- Keep in mind sudden cardiac arrest is very rare among young athletes and is more common in middle-age.
Know your family history.If someone in your family had early onset heart disease, experienced cardiac arrest, or suffered from another heart condition, you are at greater risk of experiencing cardiac arrest. If you are unsure of your family’s history, ask relatives about your family’s health. For instance, you might ask a family member, “Did anyone in our family have any heart conditions?”
- Your doctor will ask you about your family history during your appointment regarding your potential cardiac arrest symptoms.
Consider your medical history.There are many medical conditions that are closely correlated with cardiac arrest. For instance, if you have diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), or high blood cholesterol, you’re at elevated risk for cardiac arrest.
- Additionally, if you have had a heart attack or a previous episode of cardiac arrest, you are at elevated risk of experiencing cardiac arrest.
- Other heart conditions like cardiomyopathy (a type of inherited heart disease), arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat), and congenital heart defects also increase your odds for cardiac arrest.
Identify any harmful habits.Apart from inherited conditions, lifestyle-related health complications — obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, use of illegal drugs, and drinking excessively (more than one to two drinks per day) — also make you more likely to experience cardiac arrest when working out.
Contact your doctor.If you experience any of the warning signs of cardiac arrest, they may or may not be actually indicative of cardiac troubles. Many of them are common side effects of overly-strenuous physical activity. But if you experience any of these symptoms repeatedly, or if you have a history of heart problems (either personally or in your family), contact your doctor.It is also essential that you are evaluated by your doctor if you are planning to return to exercising after a long period of inactivity.
Get an electrocardiogram (ECG).An ECG is a noninvasive test that measures the electrical activity in your heart. During the examination, a doctor will attach up to 12 electrodes to your arms, legs, and chest. Your heart’s activity can be monitored through these electrodes.Your doctor will be able to interpret the ECG to determine if you have a heart disorder or cardiac issue that puts you at risk for cardiac arrest when working out.
Receive echocardiography.Echocardiography (or “echo”) is another noninvasive test that your doctor might use to find out more about the function of your heart. The echo is an ultrasound of your heart and can help your doctor check the size of your heart as well as look for any abnormalities in the muscle and blood flow.
- A variation of the echo that could be especially helpful to you — as someone who works out — is the stress echo. In this variation, you have an echo done, then undergo a cardiac stress test. A cardiac stress test is basically an examination of the heart before, during, and after a brief period of exercise like riding a stationary bike or running on a treadmill. Afterwards they will perform another echo to see how your heart responded to the activity.
- Cardiac stress tests combined with echocardiography can help you determine how worried you should be about cardiac arrest when working out.
Have your doctor administer a multiple gated acquisition (MUGA) test.A MUGA test involves the injection of a small amount of radioactive material into your heart. Doctors then use a special camera to track the radioactive material through your body to determine how well your heart is pumping blood.
- As in echocardiography, you may be asked to work out during your MUGA test in order to help your physician determine how well your heart responds to stress.
Try a cardiac MRI.A cardiac MRI is similar to the MUGA test. Both allow doctors to image your heart and better understand its operation. But the MRI uses magnets and radio waves rather than radiation to obtain detailed images of your heart.
- In some cases, you might get a saline solution injected into your arm. The solution is used to track the flow of blood through your body.
- Since the MRI uses powerful magnets to image your heart, you should leave jewelry at home.
- If you have a pacemaker or other implanted device, you might be unable to get an MRI.
Talk to your doctor about cardiac catheterization.Cardiac catheterization is a procedure in which a long thin tube (a catheter) is inserted into your neck, arm, or upper thigh, then threaded through your body and into your heart. As is the case of MRIs and MUGA tests, you might be injected with a dye or trackable solute to aid in the imaging of your heart.
- If, in the course of cardiac catheterization, your doctor finds arterial blockages, they might insert a stent in order to keep the artery open and thereby reduce your odds of cardiac arrest when working out.
- If you start experiencing any of the warning signs listed during exercise, you should contact emergency services.
- If you see someone collapse during exercise from what you believe is cardiac arrest, contact emergency services and perform hands only CPR or us a defibrillator.
Video: Dr. Sharonne Hayes on Cardiac Arrest
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