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Why cardiac arrest during sex is deadlier than any other activity

Survival rates are much lower if this heart issue happens when you're getting busy.

Sudden cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack. Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem—your heart simply stops beating—while a heart attack occurs from a blockage that hampers blood flow to your heart.

In the study, researchers analyzed data on 18,622 sudden cardiac arrest cases—3,028 of which made it to the hospital alive. That means that about 84 percent of people who experienced sudden cardiac arrest died before reaching the hospital.

Out of the cardiac arrests that survived long enough to be admitted, 246 (or 8 percent) occurred during some kind of physical activity, including sports, moderate-intensity physical activity, or sexual intercourse.

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All of the sudden cardiac arrests that occurred during sex were in men, compared to 88 percent of the cardiac arrests sparked by other physical activity.

And the cardiac arrests during sex were much more deadly: Just 12 percent of those whose cardiac arrests were triggered by sex survived, compared to half of those whose arrests occurred during non-sexual physical activity.

Why the discrepancy? The uniquely private setting of sex-triggered cardiac arrests may play a role, the researchers say. That may be one reason why less than half of the cardiac arrests during sex received bystander CPR, compared to 80 percent of other physical cases. CPR is vital in the case of cardiac arrest, since it provides oxygenated blood flow to your organs, keeping them alive until your heart can get back beating.

Most cases of sudden cardiac arrest produce no symptoms. But if they do, you may feel nauseous, chest pain, or shortness of breath about an hour beforehand. Other sudden cardiac arrest symptoms that may occur immediately beforehand include heart palpitations or a racing heartbeat, dizziness or lightheadedness, or just feeling more winded or fatigued than usual, Shepal Doshi, M.D., director of cardiac electrophysiology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., told us in the past.

And if you see someone suddenly go down? First, call 911. Then, if you’re in a public place, look for an automated external defibrillator (there will be a diagram inside explaining use.) If you’re in the bedroom and there’s no AED, start CPR. Here’s the correct way to perform CPR—you don’t need to give rescue breaths if you’re not trained.

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