The death of Captain David Seath, a fit army man in last Sunday’s London Marathon once more brings to our attention how sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) can hit so suddenly and without any warning. Someone in the prime of their life, a seemingly healthy person isn’t supposed to collapse and die. His death comes two years after another London marathon runner Robert Berry, 42, collapsed and died just after crossing the marathon finishing line and runner Claire Squires, 30 died during the 2012 race. The fact that it is actually quite rare is why it grabs the headlines.
So what is SCA? When you hear about someone particularly a young person dropping dead we immediately think about a heart attack but sudden cardiac arrest is different.
A heart attack is when the blood flow to the heart is blocked, and sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and suddenly stops beating unexpectedly. A heart attack is a “circulation” problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an “electrical” problem. Most heart attacks do not lead to Sudden Cardio Arrest.
Victims of SCA will lose their pulse, then consciousness, and finally the ability to breathe and all this can happen within seconds and without the immediate use of a defibrillator 90-95 percent of SCA victims will die.
So what to do? Can we be prepared? Should there be screening available to sports professionals and those partaking in regular sports activities? You would think so. But there is conflicting advice. In Italy, where screening is mandatory for all young people engaged in organised sport, they say it has reduced the incidence of young sudden cardiac death by 89%. However according to the latest research just released from The Belgian Health Care Knowledge Centre ‘screening young athletes to prevent sudden cardiac death (SCD) should be abandoned, and is actually counterproductive.’ It says that ‘the effectiveness of screening has not been substantiated and that it’s potential to reduce deaths is likely to be low because of the poor detection rate and uncertain effectiveness of managing cardiovascular diseases in asymptomatic individuals.’
“Some people accept that it might be useless, but we go one step further and say that it’s even harmful, and this seems to be something new,” says cardiologist Dr Hans Van Brabandt of The Belgian Health Care Knowledge Centre
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What we do know for certain though is that the use of a defibrillator could make the difference between life and death. And this is why it is so important that there are defibrillators available everywhere and particularly at all sporting events, in leisure centres, public and work places. And that more and more people are trained in how to use them. It is not rocket science in fact the new defibrillators on the market now are very easy to use. On Safe and Sound First Aid Courses, in line with the latest Resuscitation UK Guidelines, we now include the use of defibrillators on all Safe and Sound First Aid Courses.