Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) Overview and Prevention

Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD) or sudden cardiac arrest is an emergent condition that involves the heart stopping as a result of an irregular heartbeat, also known as arrhythmia. Sudden cardiac death is particularly dangerous because without immediate treatment with a defibrillator, the patients often dies within just a few minutes. SCD is distinct from a heart attack, which involves the blockage of one or more blood vessels to the heart.

Causes of SCD

The most common cause of sudden cardiac death is ventricular fibrillation or V-fib. V-fib is a type of arrhythmia that begins in the ventricles, or lower chambers of the heart, that are responsible for pushing blood into the body’s circulatory system. During V-fib, the ventricles beat irregularly and at an extremely high rate of 120 to 300 beats per minute – the heart can cease to function as a result. While there are other conditions that can lead to sudden cardiac death, (including poor electrical signal transmission through the heart, or when the heart stops responding to its electrical signals) V-fib is by far the most common cause.

Upon testing, most patients will show a degree of coronary heart disease, which, along with age, is a significant risk factor for V-fib and SCD. Other significant risk factors include stress and previous episodes of Ventricular Tachycardia or VT. Men are more than twice as likely to experience SCD as women.

Treatment for V-fib

While V-fib can be treated (thus preventing sudden death) if an external defibrillator (AED) is employed immediately, or if the patient has an implanted defibrillator, the condition often presents in patients with no outward symptoms and who have never had a diagnosed heart condition. This makes successful treatment exceptionally difficult if not in a healthcare setting or preemptively treated with ablation. AICD, or anti arrhythmic medicine.


Advanced knowledge of having a heart condition followed by effective preventative treatment can prevent Sudden Cardiac Death from occurring. Some patients will have medical histories and conditions that typically increase their chance of experiencing SCD. If risk factors are identified and treated soon enough, SCD may never occur. Typical preventative measures include:

  • Treating Ventricular Tachycardia or VT, which when left untreated, can often lead to V-fib. Many EPs use advanced catheter ablation to treat VT and reduce the risk of follow-on conditions. An automatic implantable cardioverter defribrilator (AICD) may also be used if VT cannot be controlled otherwise.
  • Treating ischemic heart disease and heart failure, which is a significant risk factor for V-fib and SCD, with the use of an AICD to restore normal heart function during VT or V-fib
  • Lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise, as well as stress reduction, to minimize the chance of SCD
  • Understanding and treating those with a genetic predisposition for heart disease, which can go a long way in preventing SCD

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