Heart Attack vs Sudden Death

Dr. Kevin Pistawka, MD, FRCSC, Cardiologist, discusses diagnosis and treatment for heart attack vs sudden death.

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Dr. Kevin Pistawka, MD, FRCSC, Cardiologist, discusses diagnosis and treatment for heart attack vs sudden death.
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Featuring Dr. Kevin Pistawka, MD, FRCSC, Cardiologist

Duration: 1 minute, 51 seconds

Heart attack and sudden death are really not the same thing.  

They are actually a bit of an overlap. Heart attack is typically when an artery blocks off suddenly, deprives the heart of oxygen and blood, and the heart muscle then starts to die, and we’ve got hours to restore that.  

We can do that with clot busters, we can do that with stents, and typically the patient is experiencing severe chest pain and needs urgent attention. Not all patients with heart attacks, however, suffer a sudden death. Many of them come into hospital and they get treated without anything life threatening to the point that they would actually die.

A sudden death, however, is very different. This is when a patient suddenly drops to the floor and everything stops. The heart rhythm basically goes often very, very fast 200, 300 beats a minute, and then eventually after several minutes of a very fast rhythm we see a flat line and sudden death.  

What we’re trying to do with defibrillators is correct that arrhythmia that occurs. Now sometimes that can be as a result of a heart attack or blocked artery, but it doesn’t have to be.  

There are some people that can have sudden deaths without experiencing artery blockages because of a scarring in their heart muscle either from heart muscle disease or inherited electrical problems with the heart.  

So sudden death there’s many different causes. Cardiac arrhythmias are one of the causes of the sudden death, and typically what happens is an abnormal electrical storm occurs in the heart, and that can happen because of a blocked artery.  

It can happen because of scar tissue in the heart. There’s various reasons why sudden death can occur, but the heart rhythm just goes haywire. And the heart will beat excessively fast 200, 300 beats a minute, and if that goes on for several minutes, eventually the heart will just come to a standstill unless we provide a reboot.  

So if we can reboot your heart with a defibrillator either an implantable one or an external one, there’s a chance then we can restore the heart’s rhythm back to normal and then take the patients to a hospital and decide what’s the next therapy for their sudden death.

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Presenter: Dr. Kevin Pistawka, Cardiologist, Kelowna, BC

Local Practitioners: Cardiologist

This content is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.