Cardiac Arrest Risk Factors: Medications, Cigarettes, And Overall Health

Did you know that more than 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside of the hospital every year in the United States? Defined as “the cessation of cardiac mechanical activity, as confirmed by the absence of signs of circulation” by the American Heart Association (AHA), survival rates of sudden cardiac arrest are disappointingly low due to the fact that bystanders are often unable or unwilling to provide CPR; the chance of surviving decreases by 7% for every minute that is delayed.

Rather than depend on the lifesaving support of a total stranger or family member, either of whom may not be trained in CPR, the best way to ensure your survival after experiencing sudden cardiac arrest is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Just like the rest of our bodily systems, cardiovascular health is associated with a number of risk factors that can be effectively guarded against. Let’s take a look at the top three.

Too Many Meds

Four out of five older adults take one or more medications every day. This isn’t inherently dangerous; not all medications interact negatively with each other. However, only a doctor will know your family history and the unique chemical components of the drugs. If you see multiple providers, it’s possible that they don’t have access to all of your information and may prescribe you something that will result in dangerous side effects. To prevent the chances of that occurring, incorporate the following tips into your routine.

  • Keep a list of all the medicines you take, both prescription and over-the-counter
  • Discuss and review the list with your providers and pharmacists
  • Ask if you still need to take all of them, and check to see if any dosages need to be changed
  • Ask questions about any new drugs that are prescribed
  • Keep your medicines organized

Don’t be afraid to be your own advocate. You’re the only one who has all of the information, so it’s vital that you keep the conversation open with your doctors.

Cigarettes And Smoke

To be honest, smoking is universally unhealthy; more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States. The common health effects include throat and lung cancer, but cigarettes can also have a serious impact on your heart: smoking makes blood vessels thicken and grow narrower, which in turn makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure rise. In addition to the risk of clots (which can trigger heart attacks), your likelihood of developing coronary heart disease — a leading cause of sudden cardiac arrest — is increased by two to four times. If you’re a smoker, it might be time to quit.


Obesity can do a number on every single one of your bodily systems; from heart disease and type 2 diabetes to bone and joint disease, obesity causes an estimated 300,000 premature deaths every year. Behind smoking, it is the leading cause of preventable death in this nation. When you gain weight, you are adding fat tissue to your body. This tissue needs oxygen and nutrients in order to live, which requires blood vessels to circulate more blood to the fatty areas; because the heart must pump more blood through additional blood vessels, it is placed under considerable strain. In conjunction with heart disease — which narrows the coronary arteries due to a build-up of fatty deposits –, sudden cardiac arrest seems almost inevitable.

As with most things in life, it is easier to treat the things that may cause cardiac arrest than pick up the pieces in the aftermath. Considering the risk involved with such a traumatic event, taking the proper precautions — such as learning about your medications, quitting smoking, and losing weight — is the wisest choice.

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