News | June 29, 2009

Michael Jackson's Death Underscores the Tragedy of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

June 29, 2009 – Last week’s death of Michael Jackson at the age of 50 underscores the tragedy of sudden cardiac arrest, which kills nearly 300,000 Americans each year and is the nation's leading cause of death, said Sudden Cardiac Arrest Association and the American Heart Association (AHA).

It is believed Jackson suffered a cardiac arrest. Jackson’s personal physician, Conrad Murray, M.D., said when he entered the singer’s home he found Jackson in bed and not breathing. Jackson was said to have had a slight pulse and Dr. Murray attempted to resuscitate him while waited for paramedics. Paramedics also reported Jackson was not breathing when they arrived at his home in Bel-Air, Calif. He was transported to the UCLA Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead a little more than an hour after he arrived.
There has been speculation the singer’s death could be related to the possible use of prescription medications. The coroner’s office conducted an autopsy June 26, but did not release a preliminary cause of death. Officials said it would take at least a week to get the results of toxicology tests.

"It's a shame when someone his age dies so suddenly," said Clyde Yancy, M.D., president of the AHA. "Although we don't know all the details of the situation, it's important for people to know the signs and how to react quickly. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Jackson family at this time."

The AHA and the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation joins millions in grieving the loss of Jackson. Both groups said his apparent death from sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a painful reminder that SCA is a leading cause of death worldwide.

"While this tragic loss may have been unexpected, sadly, sudden cardiac arrest is not uncommon," said Bobby Khan, M.D., chairman of the SCA Foundation Board of Directors, Fulbright scholar, associate professor at Emory University and director of the coronary care unit and cardiovascular research at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta. "Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to men, women and children of all ages, and for many reasons. African Americans are at even higher risk."

Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden, unexpected loss of heart function, breathing and consciousness. SCA usually results from an abnormal heart rhythm, often as a result of underlying heart conditions. Unfortunately, for many people, the first symptom of these conditions is SCA, meaning about two-thirds of unexpected cardiac deaths will occur without prior indication of heart disease. More people die each year from SCA than from colorectal cancer, breast cancer, prostate cancer, auto accidents, AIDS, firearms, and house fires combined.

The AHA said more than 92 percent of cardiac arrest victims don't survive. A victim's chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation. Cardiac arrest can be reversed by defibrillation if it's treated within a few minutes with an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. However, few attempts at resuscitation succeed after 10 minutes.

A spokesman for the association said cardiac arrest can strike seemingly healthy individuals without warning, including those with no known history of heart disease. SCA kills an American once every two minutes and can happen virtually anytime and anywhere. Nearly 80 percent of all sudden cardiac arrests occur in the home, like in Mr. Jackson's case. Even though Jackson's collapse was apparently witnessed, EMS responded promptly and Jackson's home was near UCLA Medical Center, it was still not sufficient to revive him because SCA victims usually need immediate CPR and the shock of an automated external defibrillator (AED) if they are to have any chance of survival.

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