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Sudden cardiac death occurs when your heart stops functioning unexpectedly and suddenly. When this happens if you experience sudden cardiac arrest and blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Sudden cardiac arrest usually results in death if it is not treated within minutes.
Occurring during a heart attack, the sudden cardiac arrest should not be mistaken for a heart attack. The immediate cause of sudden cardiac arrest is usually an abnormality in your heart rhythm, which is the result of a problem with your heart's electrical system. Your heart has its own electrical stimulator, which is a specialized group of cells called the sinus node located in the upper right chamber of your heart. The sinus node generates electrical impulses that flow in an orderly manner through your heart to synchronize heart rate and coordinate the pumping of blood from your heart to rest of your body.
If something goes wrong with the flow of these electric impulses through your heart, a condition known as arrhythmia occurs, causing your heart to beat too fast or too slow or in an irregular manner. Often these interruptions in rhythm are momentary and harmless. But if it is severe it can lead to a sudden stop in heart function.
Ventricular fibrillation is the most common life threatening arrhythmia which is the uncontrolled twitching or quivering of muscle fibers. It must be treated immediately to save a person's life. It can be treated by delivering a quick electric shock through the chest.
There are many risk factors that increase the risk of sudden cardiac death including the history of previous heart attacks, coronary artery disease, smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
Coronary Artery Disease - Symptoms and Causes
Coronary artery disease is the disease in which the major blood vessels (coronary arteries) that supply blood, nutrients and oxygen to your heart get damaged or disease stricken. It is mostly caused due to the coronary artery getting plagued or inflamed. The consequent reduction in blood flow to the heart causes the various symptoms of coronary artery disease like angina (chest pain), short breath etc.
Here is a list of a few symptoms that help in identification of the coronary artery disease.
1. Angina - Pressure or tightness may be felt in or near the area of the chest that results in pain. It is mostly felt in the middle or left side of the chest.
2. Shortness of breath - Another symptom of coronary artery disease is short breath, fatigue and a feeling of exertion.
3. Heart attack - Complete blockage of the coronary artery results in a heart attack that is a prominent symptom of coronary artery disease. A person may feel heavy pressure in the chest, pain in the shoulder or arm, sweating etc. prior to getting a heart attack.
Coronary artery disease occurs when damage or injury is done to the inner layer of the coronary artery. This damage causes plaque, which are deposits made of fat, cholesterol and other cellular waste materials to accumulate near the damaged area of the artery. This process is known as atherosclerosis.
The various causes that result in coronary artery damage are listed below.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- High stress
- Physical inactivity
Angina or angina pectoris is the pain, discomfort or tightness in the chest that occurs when the blood flow to the heart muscle cells is not enough to meet its energy needs. It is not a disease itself but rather a symptom of the coronary heart disease.
What are the different types of angina?
1. Stable angina: It is the commonest form of angina. It can be triggered by stress or physical activity and usually only lasts a few minutes.
2. Unstable angina: It happens when you're resting or aren't very active. The pain is strong and long lasting, and may keep recurring. It may be a signal of an impending heart attack.
3. Variant angina: This might take place when you're asleep or at rest. This sudden tightening or narrowing of the heart's arteries causes a lot of pain.
How u know what your are experiencing is an angina pain?
You might be having angina pain if you suffer from one or more of these symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Pain in your arm, neck, jaw and back
- Numbness or loss of feeling in your arms, shoulders or wrists
Immediate Relief from Angina
If previously advised by a certified doctor, patients can take antiplatelet medicines which are blood thinners and prevent unstable angina. Final treatments include angioplasty (repair of a blocked blood vessel through surgery), insertion of a coronary artery stent (a tube that is used to treat weakened arteries) or a heart bypass surgery for serious complications.
The heart's electrical conduction system plays a very important role in cardiovascular functioning. Also known as the atrioventricular (AV) conduction system, it regulates and controls the timing of the heartbeat.
How does the heart's electrical conduction system work?
There is a collection of electrical cells in the upper right atrium of the heart known as the sinoatrial (SA) node which acts as a natural pacemaker and generates electrical signals. These signals travel through specialized electrical pathways and stimulate the muscular walls of the heart to contract in a rhythmic manner. This gives rise to the heartbeat that pulses at a specific frequency every minute.
What is the effect of fluctuations in electrical activity on the heart?
The standard heart rate in human being ranges from 60 to 100 beats per minute. It slows down when a person sleeps and speeds up when one experiences physical or emotional heightening. These fluctuations are triggered by the brain or other systems of the body and signal the SA node to generate charges more rapidly or slowly. This leads to spikes and drops in the heart rate, depending on the nature of the situation.
What happens when there is dysfunction in the heart's electrical activity?
When the heart's electrical conduction system does not function properly, it leads to the occurrence of a condition known as arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythm. This happens when electrical impulses are generated in an irregular manner and causes tachycardia (rapid heartbeats) or bradycardia (slow heartbeats) which takes place in jarring infrequent tempos.
What causes fluctuations in the heart's electrical activity?
There are various kinds of triggers that cause the heart rate to fluctuate. The exact nature of fluctuation also depends on the type of trigger. A few everyday examples of these causes are as follows:
- Exercise and strenuous physical activity increases electrical activity as the heart is required to beat faster so as to increase the supply of blood and oxygen to the muscles.
- Sleep and rest reduce heart rate as the body is not needed to exert itself.
- Release of adrenaline into the bloodstream causes the heart rate to spike up.
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Palpitations is the feeling that you experience when your heart beats abnormally. Heart palpitations can be felt in the form of rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats. They can be frightening as when you palpate, you heart beats so hard that it even skips a beat and the sensations are so strong that they can be felt all through your chest, neck, and throat.
Palpitations are also common especially in young people because of abnormal electrical circuits in heart from birth. However, they may have normal hearts on Echo. Such palpitations are curable by a nonsurgical methods called Radiofrequency Ablation.
Palpitations can be triggered as a result of a number of reasons like stress, certain medications, exercise etc.
Here are a few prominent causes of heart palpitations.
Causes unrelated to the Heart -
- Anxiety, fear, and stress
- Consumption of alcohol and drugs like caffeine, nicotine etc.
- Consumption of street drugs likes cocaine, amphetamines etc.
- Certain medical conditions such as thyroid, anemia, dehydration, low blood pressure and low sugar levels etc.
- Hormonal changes that occur as a result of menstruation, pregnancy, menopause etc.
- Certain nutritional and herbal supplements
- Certain medications like asthma inhalers, diet pills etc.
- Abnormal levels of electrolyte
- Sensitivity to certain food items like some carbohydrates
Causes related to the Heart -
- Coronary artery disease
- Prior instances of heart attack
- Congestive heart failure (a condition wherein your heart's chambers get affected)
- Problems associated with the heart valves or the heart muscles
Immediate Relief Mechanisms-
It is crucial to go to the most easily available doctor to get an ECG done during palpitations as ECG will give an exact diagnosis, which helps in identifying the clear line of treatment.
Here are a few techniques that can help you in getting immediate relief from heart palpitations until you are able to visit a doctor in case of a serious condition.
- Cough it out
- Splash cold water on your face or take a cold shower
- Practice slow, deep breathing exercises
Heart attack or myocardial infarction mostly occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked due to one or more reasons. The most prominent reason could be high fat or cholesterol that results in plaque build up in the coronary artery. The restricted blood flow has the potential to damage or even destroy the heart muscle. Some of the symptoms that can be helpful when it comes to the identification of a heart attack are listed below.
1. Discomfort in the Chest - Your chest may feel tight and pressured when you are about to be hit by a heart attack. Pain or discomfort in the chest is usually central typically felt behind the sternum, the central bone of chest. It may not be pain, it may be only discomfort, it may only be in upper part of tummy, very commonly confused with a gas problem. It is often accompanied by a painful sensation in the chest or arms. If a chest pain lasts more than 15-20 min it can be assumed to be a heart attack. This aching sensation may even spread to your back, neck or jaw.
2. Feeling of inconvenience - Often before the heart attack, the person may have feelings of nausea, ingestion, abdominal pain or a heartburn.
3. Breathing problems - Another prominent symptom of heart attack is shortness of breath which is accompanied by cold sweat and fatigue.
If you think you are getting a heart attack, you should immediately take one tablet of Aspirin, 4 tablets of a drug called Clopidogrel, and one tablet of Atorvastatin 80 mg and rush to the nearest possible medical facility as time is very important in the treatment of an acute heart attack.
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