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Jackson's Death Puts Spotlight on Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Date:6/26/2009

e, ventricular fibrillation takes place when an artery is blocked off. When that happens, if you don't get the rhythm corrected right away, you lose cardiac function and everything stops quite quickly."

Between 200,000 and 300,000 Americans die each year of sudden cardiac arrest, added Dr. Bruce Lindsay, a past president of the Heart Rhythm Society and director of cardiac electrophysiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "It is actually the most common cause of death in the United States," he noted.

The best emergency treatment is a shock from a defibrillator to restore heart rhythm. Defibrillators now are available in many public places, and tens of thousands of Americans have tiny defibrillators implanted in their chests each year.

Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), where regular thrusts are applied to the chest to keep blood flowing, can be a lifesaving technique "if it is done properly," Lindsay said. But the overall survival rate for people with sudden cardiac arrest is still only about 5 percent, he added.

There is a complex relationship between heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest, Lindsay said. "The majority of the time, sudden cardiac arrest is not associated with a heart attack," he said. "It is usually related to scarring or damage to the heart from some past event."

That past event might be a heart attack that caused scarring of the heart, Lindsay said. "Or it might be due to weakness of the heart muscle unrelated to heart disease, a virus or some other cause," he said.

Certain drugs can also cause cardiac arrest, Garratt added. On Friday, media reports noted that doctors doing the autopsy on Jackson will be looking for possible effects of drugs. One report said that Jackson had an injection of morphine before the crisis. Another report mentioned possible use of the prescription narcotic Demerol.

"Usually, prescribed heart medications can stimulate abnormal heart rhythm if taken in large
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