A top “silent killer” of men may not be as quiet as once thought: Half of all men who experience sudden cardiac arrest actually notice symptoms within the weeks before it strikes, a new study from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center found.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when your heart abruptly stops beating, due to defective electrical activity in your ticker. It’s different from a heart attack, where clogged arteries block off blood flow to the muscle.
If it’s not treated with a defibrillator—a device that shocks the heart to restore its rhythm—most people die within minutes. In fact, only about 7 percent survive it.
Sudden cardiac arrest was thought to occur without warning. But red flags can surface up to four weeks before, the researchers discovered.
While the most common symptoms reported were chest pain and difficulty breathing, there were some signs that seemed to have nothing to do with your heart.
Of the patients who experienced symptoms, 20 percent reported miscellaneous maladies like abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, and back pain, 10 percent reported flu-like symptoms, and 5 percent said they fainted.
People who called 911 right after experiencing those initial symptoms were five times as likely to survive their subsequent cardiac arrest than those who ignored them, says study author Sumeet Chugh, M.D.
“Medical intervention at this early juncture—a time window that we didn’t realize existed—may be able to pre-empt the sudden cardiac arrest,” he says.
Still, only 19 percent of them called 911 to report symptoms before suffering cardiac arrest.
So when should you seek medical care for these symptoms? More research is needed for the general population before any specific recommendations can be made based on the study, says Dr. Chugh.
But if you have heart disease, any new or unexpected symptoms warrant medical attention, he adds.
As for young, healthy guys? The risk of sudden cardiac death rises sharply with age, and with risk factors like a family history or underlying conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.
So if you’re feeling like you have the flu, chances are more likely it’s the bug rather than sudden cardiac arrest.
However, you should be on the lookout for symptoms that keep creeping back: In the study, of the patients who noticed warning signs, 93 percent of them experienced a recurrence