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What are the symptoms and early warning signs of potential sudden cardiac arrest, and how can I protect myself from this debilitating condition?

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is not the same as a heart attack - a heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked, while SCA is caused by an electrical problem that causes the heart to beat irregularly and suddenly stop.

SCA can happen without warning, even in people without heart disease - although risk factors such as age, family history, and heart disease can increase the risk, SCA can also occur in seemingly healthy individuals.

Anxiety about heart attacks is a common fear, especially among people with risk factors or high stress levels - this anxiety can lead to physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath, known as cardiophobia.

Heart-focused anxiety may be a major factor in noncardiac chest pain (NCCP), a common reason for emergency department visits - NCCP results in 25% of ED visits and may be triggered by anxiety or stress.

Scar tissue from a heart attack can damage the heart's electrical system and increase the risk of SCA - the first six months after a heart attack is a high-risk period for SCA in patients with atherosclerotic heart disease.

Cardiomyopathy, or thickened heart muscle, can also increase the risk of SCA - damage to the heart muscle can be caused by high blood pressure, heart valve disease, or other factors.

SCA can be fatal in minutes - when the heart stops pumping blood, the person becomes unconscious and breathing stops, leading to death within minutes if not treated immediately.

Bystanders can increase a person's chances of survival by calling for help and starting CPR immediately - the person's chances of survival are best when they receive help right away.

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