Heart disease has numerous causes

Sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and heart failure - all are serious and perhaps even frightening terms. You probably know that all three phrases describe disorders involving the heart. However, many of the similarities end there. These are th...

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Sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and heart failure - all are serious and perhaps even frightening terms. You probably know that all three phrases describe disorders involving the heart. However, many of the similarities end there. These are three very different conditions requiring varying treatments and levels of emergency care.

Sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical system to the heart malfunctions and suddenly becomes very irregular. Most cases of sudden cardiac arrest are caused by abnormal heart rhythms called arrhythmias.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the largest cause of natural death in the U.S. It causes about 325,000 adult deaths in the United States each year and is responsible for half of all heart disease deaths.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs most frequently in adults in their mid-30s to mid-40s, and affects men twice as often as it does women. It is rare in children, affecting only one to one per 100,000 children each year.


Symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest can include: dizziness, fainting, palpitations (feeling like your heart is racing or fluttering), chest pain, shortness of breath, confusion and weakness.

Sudden cardiac arrest can be a very serious condition requiring immediate medical action. Outlook for survival is good - as high as 90 percent - if emergency treatment is started within minutes after sudden cardiac arrest begins. The rate decreases about 10 percent for each minute longer it takes to initiate treatment.

If you or someone you know has a history of sudden cardiac arrest, it is important that family and friends are aware of the condition and know what to do in case of an emergency. Seek emergency care (by calling 911) immediately. Family members and friends of those at risk for sudden cardiac death should be trained in CPR. Emergency treatment includes CPR and defibrillation.

Heart attack

More than one million Americans have a heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) each year. "Myo" means muscle, "cardial" refers to the heart, and "infarction" means death of tissue due to lack of blood supply.

Heart attacks occur when there is a blockage in one or more of the arteries to the heart, preventing the heart from receiving enough oxygen-rich blood. If this blood is blocked from reaching the heart muscle, the heart can become damaged.

Symptoms of heart attack can include: pressure or pain in the chest, arm or below the breastbone that may spread to the back, jaw, throat or arm. Other symptoms are indigestion, heartburn, sweating, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, anxiety, stomach pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeats.

Symptoms can vary from person to person. Women, older adults, and people with diabetes are less likely to have severe chest pain and more likely to have shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness or fainting, and stomach pain.


Symptoms can start as mild and progress to pain that is severe. Symptoms typically last 30 minutes or more and do not lessen with rest or oral medications.

If you think you or someone you know is having a heart attack, seek immediate treatment. The longer you wait to seek medical care, the more likely it is that permanent damage to the heart will occur.

Heart failure

Although it may sound ominous, heart failure does not mean that your heart has stopped. Heart failure is a condition that occurs when your heart muscle does not pump as well as it should and your organs and body don't get as much blood as they need.

Nearly five million Americans suffer with heart failure, which is most often caused by coronary artery disease, heart attack and high blood pressure.

Heart failure usually gets worse over time, as your heart becomes less able to pump the blood needed by your body. As heart failure progresses, symptoms increase. They can include: feeling fatigued, shortness of breath (especially when exerting self), palpitations, weakness, dizziness, swelling (edema) in legs, ankles and feet, weight gain, coughing and wheezing when lying down, nausea and increased urination at night.

If you have symptoms or a background that suggests that you might have heart failure, your doctor will want to perform a physical exam and run tests to make a diagnosis and prescribe appropriate treatment.

If you have been diagnosed with heart failure and your symptoms suddenly become worse, seek emergency medical treatment.


Heart disease includes a number of conditions that affect the structures or function of the heart. Three types of heart disease are sudden cardiac arrest, heart attack and heart failure. Sudden cardiac arrest involves a misfiring of the electrical impulses in your heart. Heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in the arteries leading to the heart. Finally, heart failure describes a condition where the heart muscle is unable to pump effectively.

All three of these conditions can be serious and require ongoing medical care. All are treatable. Heart disease touches the lives of those it affects personally as well as the lives of family and loved ones. Ongoing, proper medical care can help to decrease the effects that heart disease has on you and the people you love.

Dr. Rogers is a board certified family practice physician at Raiter Clinic in Cloquet.

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