New AHA Guidelines May Help Doctors Identify Risk Of Cardiac Arrest Deaths

heart EKGIt’s hard to predict sudden cardiac arrest. For people whose heart unexpectedly stops beating, roughly half didn’t have any earlier symptoms.

New guidelines issued Monday by the American Heart Association, American College of Cardiology and Heart Rhythm Society may help doctors better identify people at risk for having and dying from cardiac arrest.

Cardiac electrophysiologist Sana M. Al-Khatib, M.D., chair of the group that wrote the guidelines, said the new recommendations give doctors a blueprint for how to diagnose and treat people at increased risk for cardiac arrest due to ventricular arrhythmias — abnormal heart rhythms that occur in the lower chambers of the heart.

“It is critically important to identify patients at an increased risk of sudden cardiac arrest and to promptly offer them highly effective therapies to reduce that risk,” said Al-Khatib, co-director of the Duke Center for the Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Ventricular arrhythmias can result from heart muscle damage from a heart attack or cardiomyopathy, or can occur in patients with hearts that appear structurally normal.

One treatment option proposed in the new guidelines is an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a battery-powered device placed under the skin that tracks the heart rhythm and delivers an electric shock when it detects a dangerously fast heart rhythm. Medications such as antiarrhythmic drugs can help control abnormal heart rhythms.

Each year, more than 350,000 Americans have a cardiac arrest outside a hospital. Only about one in 10 survives.

A patient’s genetic data might also be valuable, according to the guidelines. Since the last set of guidelines were issued in 2006, there’s been a growing interest in genetic testing and what it can tell doctors about a person’s predisposition to certain conditions, including sudden cardiac death.

According to the guidelines,…