Harvard Heart Letter

Sudden death isn't always so sudden

Chest pain, shortness of breath, and other common heart attack warning signs often precede sudden cardiac arrests.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the Hollywood picture of a heart attack: A middle-aged man clutches his chest, slumps to the floor, and expires. It's disastrously common and deadly. A whopping 20% of all deaths in the United States each year are due to a sudden cardiac arrest; barely 5% of people who have one survive.

The perception of sudden cardiac arrest, certainly furthered by its name, is that it comes as a bolt out of the blue. A meticulous study by German researchers suggests that it is more like real lightning, which is usually preceded by clouds, wind, and rain.

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