New Findings on Cardiac Arrest: Warning Signs the Day Before

In recent findings, it has been revealed that half of the individuals who experience sudden cardiac arrest might have had distinct symptoms a day prior to the event. Importantly, these symptoms can differ between men and women, a new study from the Smidt Heart Institute of Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles suggests. Women are most likely to experience shortness of breath as a significant warning sign, while men often feel chest pain and pressure.

The prevalent belief has been that cardiac arrest is a sudden event without any prior indication. However, this might not be the full picture. Recognizing these early signs could indeed offer a lifeline. “Warning symptoms are associated with cardiac arrest and are gender-specific,” confirms Dr. Sumeet Chugh, the study’s author and medical director at the Heart Rhythm Center.

The severity of cardiac arrest’s outcome is underlined by the fact that a majority who suffer from it outside hospitals succumb within minutes. It is a life-threatening condition where the heart abruptly stops, leading to an immediate stoppage of blood flow to essential organs like the brain. Every year, a staggering 450,000 Americans fall victim to it, as noted by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

In this revealing study, researchers meticulously examined data from two separate community-based studies carried out in Ventura, California, and Portland, Oregon. Their objective was to compare the symptoms of individuals who suffered from sudden cardiac arrest to those who went to the emergency room without such an experience. Their observation was striking: 50% of cardiac arrest victims had experienced a crucial symptom just a day prior, specifically chest pain in men and shortness of breath in women. Additionally, both men and women in smaller percentages reported palpitations, flu-like symptoms, and seizure-like activities before the cardiac event.

Nevertheless, Dr. Chugh emphasizes the importance of contextualizing these symptoms. While chest pain or shortness of breath can manifest due to various reasons, they are alarmingly more associated with cardiac arrest in individuals already diagnosed with conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, or underlying heart ailments.

Technological advancements, such as applications or smartwatches, may soon play a pivotal role in narrowing down individuals most susceptible to sudden cardiac arrest. “We need a multi-faceted approach, combining various symptoms and conditions, to determine who might be at the brink of a cardiac arrest,” Dr. Chugh remarked.

In conclusion, an unexpected onset of symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath should be taken seriously, especially in those with known heart conditions. Immediate medical attention by calling 911 is crucial. Additionally, Dr. Chugh advocates for prompt CPR within the first few minutes of someone collapsing due to cardiac arrest, and the increased availability of Automated External Defibrillators (AEDs) in public spaces can make a significant difference in survival rates.


Sumeet Chugh, MD, Pauline and Harold Price Chair in Cardiac Electrophysiology Research, medical director, Heart Rhythm Center, department of cardiology, director, division, artificial intelligence in medicine, department, medicine, Smidt Heart Institute,