What Triggers Cardiac Arrest?

It Differs For Men And Women

Cardiac Triggers: No Laughing Matter

What triggers a cardiac arrest? Many of us laughed when Fred Sanford, in episode after episode of Sanford and Son, would grab his chest and cry out, "Elizabeth, I'm comin’ to join ya." In the show it was, of course, a manipulation tactic implying that the immediate stress was sending him into cardiac arrest. But the caricature is not far from reality. 

Stress factors have been shown to be among the immediate triggers for a cardiac event.

But at least one study has gone further than this conclusion. The truth is both men and women are susceptible to stressful events acting as triggers for cardiac arrest.

This is even the case for patients with no previous history of heart trouble. However, the triggering events are not necessarily the same for both genders.

Cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical impulses that control heart rhythm become erratic and rapid.

This chaotic state causes the heart to shut down depriving the body of blood often resulting in a quick death. The factors that cause this erratic misfiring are not easy to determine. But it does seem clear that stress is a major factor with men and women responding differently, each being vulnerable to different types of stress.

Research Reveals Different Triggers

One study considered 122 men and women who had suffered cardiac arrest outside of a hospital. Each of these survived and was given an implantable defibrillator to control future events. Each was asked to complete a questionnaire detailing the events and experiences that occurred prior to the cardiac arrest. 

The questions included information on physical exertion as well asemotionally charged events such as a divorce or the recent death of a loved one as well as other conflicts. 

The results were as follows… 

For Women

  • 40% reported events that would cause psychological (or emotional) stress
  • 5% reported physical exertion among the possible triggers.

For Men

  • 40% reported physical exertion as the trigger
  • 16% listed emotional stress as a factor

Forty-five percent of the women and 38% of the men in the study had not been on any medication prior to their cardiac arrest. Fifty percent of the women and 33% of the men had no prior history of any cardiac disease. And most of the patients (90%) had experienced no symptoms prior to the attack. 

Though the triggers may vary between men and women…

It is possible that the same underlying immediate cause may be to blame.

For men physical exertion can cause an increase in adrenaline level. Emotional stress may cause the same spike in women. 

Adrenaline is a stress hormone that causes the heart to beat faster preparing the body for action. The biological pathways for sudden cardiac death may vary for men and women but adrenaline rise may be implicated in both.

Of course it is not implied in this study that adrenaline causes cardiac events. But it does imply that given other heart damaging factors an adrenaline spike may be one of the triggers for cardiac arrest.

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