Harvard Heart Letter

Heart beat: Beware cardiac arrest after heart attack

Heart beat

Beware cardiac arrest after heart attack

Surviving a heart attack is either a huge achievement or a miracle, depending on your point of view. Although the worst is behind you, the month after a heart attack is difficult for many reasons. Coping with the aftermath can be a challenge. And it takes a while for the riled-up heart to settle down. A study of residents of Olmsted County, Minnesota (the home of the Mayo Clinic), shows that sudden cardiac arrest and sudden death occur four times more often in the month following a heart attack than at other times. The absolute numbers aren't huge — 1.2% of heart attack survivors had cardiac arrests in the 30 days after their attacks versus 0.3% in the months after that. But the increase is something to be aware of (Journal of the American Medical Association, Nov. 5, 2008).

You can do a few things to help prevent your heart from careening into ventricular fibrillation, the fast, disorganized rhythm that causes cardiac arrest. Taking your medicines, starting a cardiac rehab program, and eating fatty fish rich in omega-3 fats, such as salmon and sardines, can help keep the heartbeat steady. And make sure your family members, friends, co-workers, and others have learned how to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and know to call 911 right away if you suddenly collapse.

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