Tom Petty died Monday at age 66 in Los Angeles after going into cardiac arrest.
A form of heart disease — which kills around 630,000 Americans every year according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without notice.
“Cardiac arrest occurs when your heart abruptly stops beating due to a malfunction in the body’s electrical system,” says George Welch, M.D., a cardiologist with Manhattan Cardiology.
“When the heart abruptly stops functioning you lose consciousness very quickly because blood is no longer pupmped through the body,” Welch tells the Daily News. “With no blood flow to the brain, you collapse.”
The condition is different from a heart attack, which is caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack — or myocardial infarction — refers to the “death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply, which is irreversible,” says Welch. But it doesn’t necessarily result in the death of the heart attack victim.
The same factors that put someone at risk for heart disease increase the odds of cardiac arrest. The top five, says Welch, include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history of heart disease, diabetes and smoking.
Americans had more than 350,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests each year — and nearly 90% are fatal.
But with emergency medical attention, cardiac arrest can be reversed. When used within a few minutes, a defibrillator can shock the heart back into a normal rhythm.