Be Well

Ask Dr. Vega: Sudden Death

Did you know that my father is a doctor?

Yes, my dad is a cardiologist. Like a good specialist his first concern is to always save lives.

Growing up with his example has made me very conscious about the importance of health and education. That’s why I offered this space to him, so he can better inform us about matters essential to our wellbeing and hearts.

Today we are going to take up a topic that can cause some fear or worry. But maybe that, plus the heavy statistics, is what makes it so relevant.

My dad, aka Dr. Rodolfo Vega, will explain what sudden death is and some ways to prevent it.

Sudden death is defined as ‘the quick and unexpected occurrence of a heart attack in a person that is seemingly healthy and in good state, within the hour of the first symptoms showing up.’ The person collapses when the heart goes into an arrythmia—irregular heartbeats—and oxygen can’t reach the organs.

This syndrome might be the biggest challenge for modern cardiology.

In Colombia, 1 or 2 people out of 150.000 die this way.
In the United States, sudden death takes 300.000 people every year.
3 or 4 million die from this syndrome in the world yearly.

In this occasion, we’re going to focus on two kinds: the one that occurs in people younger than 35 years old and the one that happens to people above that age range.

  1. The cases in young people are due to genetic and hereditary diseases.
    1. These conditions are difficult to identify because they’re often within the heart and can’t be seen in an echocardiogram.
    2. Sadly, the most common cases are amongst people that look and feel healthy, or high performance athletes.
  2. The cases in people older than 40 are due to coronary heart disease.
    1. Its more common amongst men.
    2. Some risk factors include: stress, alcohol or tobacco consumption, high colesterol, diabetes, overweight and high blood pressure.

The most worrisome aspect of this syndrome is that the first symptom of sudden death is sadly, death.

The good part is that with the right equipment, people can be saved. What’s needed is a defibrillator, those that show up in movies and tv shows and always relive a character. Well, that is exactly their function: to reestablish a normal cardiac rhythm through a shot of electricity.

The big problem is the lack of defibrillators in public spaces, at least in Colombia and other countries in Latin America. This being the only capable tool of saving a person makes them so important that it should be law to have them available everywhere, from movie theaters and restaurants to parks. A doctor, regardless of his or her knowledge, can’t do anything without the defibrillator.

Another good thing is that with the right tests, doctors can identify the possibilities a person has of collapsing from a sudden death. With a simple electrocardiogram, an examination that takes about 5 minutes, it’s possible to pinpoint the majority of symptoms.

If you happen to have a predisposition of suffering a sudden death, a doctor can implant an cardioverter defibrillator in your heart to prevent the risk of a cardiac attack. This syndrome can only be prevented with the appropriate check ups.

So, what does Dr. Vega recommend?

  1. Invest in your health. Everyone should get an anual cardiovascular check up. That check up could safe your life.
  2. If you’re a high performance athlete you should, with even more urgency, get your heart tested every year. The best way to do it is to go to your health institution and say “I am an athlete and I want to get checked to see if I am prone to a sudden death.”
  3. There are genetic tests that can identify if you’re a candidate of this syndrome.
  4. If anyone in your family has suffered a sudden death, all the people related should get an annual examination with ever more rigor.
  5. Even if you think that you’re healthy and you can exercise, don’t delay your annual test!
  6. Sports can be a trigger to sudden death. An examination with a cardiologist will let you know if exercising is actually beneficial for you.

The big message we want to share is: get checked! Value your health and take care of your heart.

Help others out by informing them about this topic and raise awareness. And if you can, schedule a visit to the cardiologist for you and those you care about.

Now that you know about this syndrome, how will you take better care of yourself and those who surround you? What will you do today for your heart?

*Important statement: These are merely recommendations and an offer to pay more attention to your health. If you have any doubts or concerns please contact your health provider or doctor. This blog doesn’t assume responsibility for any actions of readers, it is merely informative and doesn’t prescribe or gives diagnoses of any sort.



Dr. Rodolfo Vega Llamas

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    Kate says:

    I subcribe to receive your story in my box but I received nothing why???