Surviving sudden cardiac arrest is just the first step toward full recovery—but don’t worry, there’s plenty of help to assist you as you recover. Many survivors have described physical, mental, and emotional changes after the event—some that last for a few hours, and others that never go away. While each person’s experience is unique, many have said they share similar feelings and go through the same lifestyle changes, from receiving an implanted defibrillator (ICD) to new thoughts about their own mortality.
As you and your family adjust to life after sudden cardiac arrest, remember that others have been through this before you, and there are many resources available to help you recover and return to a normal life.
Many survivors of sudden cardiac arrest experience varying levels of denial upon initially hearing that their heart stopped beating. It is perfectly normal to experience these feelings, but important to learn more about your cardiac arrest and accept that it happened and what it means.
Many SCA survivors say that learning more about their experience has helped them accept it and recover. Talking to witnesses, EMS providers, and emergency room staff can help you understand what happened, and even why. Meeting the people who helped you survive can also be a rewarding and emotional experience for you, your family, and for the rescuers.
Survivors can face several challenges after their SCA. Survivors of sudden cardiac arrest face not only changes in their health and behavior, but also changes in their ways of thinking about themselves and about life. Examples of things that others have dealt with include:
Depending on factors such as the cause and duration of your cardiac arrest and your overall health, you can expect to face several more tests, procedures, and possibly a lengthy rehabilitation.
Slower movement due to pain is common, especially in the initial few days and weeks following the SCA. Your physician may advise limiting physical activity or restricting lifting heavy weights and driving for a period of time.
The average time SCA survivors experienced short-term memory loss is one to six weeks, though others have reported it for longer periods or indefinitely.
Sodium restrictions are common, as well as lower fat and higher fiber. This is a learning process. Learn to read labels on everything, and discuss any dietary questions with your medical team.
Some survivors take only a few medications, but most are on multiple medications. Having one weekly pill box for morning and one for evening makes it much easier to manage.
Many survivors receive an ICD soon after the SCA. Become educated about your device, and make sure your family does too. You may not be prepared for the shock it may give, but that shock could save your life.
Depression or Anxiety
Even though you are thankful to be alive, your life has changed in a big way and struggling with depression or anxiety is normal. Talk to a family member or someone you trust. You may also need to talk with your doctor about counseling or medication.
The biggest fear is that this might happen again. The reality is that it could. The best way to address your fear and protect your health is to become educated about SCA, the devices you may have had implanted (such as stents or an ICD), and encourage your family members and friends to learn CPR and how to use an AED.
Most SCA survivors can tell you that you may be looked at differently by employers and co-workers. Some people will try and be compassionate for your situation. Others will turn and run. Don’t take this personally, they probably just don’t know what to say. If you feel comfortable, talk to your colleagues about what you experienced, and even offer to educate them on how to respond if they are with someone who experiences a cardiac arrest.
Chances are classmates will know about or may have even witnessed your SCA event. If you are comfortable sharing your story, others will more than likely be very interested and want to hear about it. Consider sharing and using it to educate others about the importance of CPR/AED awareness. Seek trusted teachers, coaches or friends and don’t be afraid to talk with your health office personnel.
This has been a big scare not only for you but for your family as well. Many survivors have actually had family members start CPR and call 911. Be patient with them and understand they are just looking out for you and may be scared something bad will happen again. The best solution is to talk. If you haven’t been doing this before your SCA, you must now. Talk about your feelings: good, bad and otherwise.
Despite all of these challenges, SCA survivors often return to normal life not long after the event. Some have found joining a survivor support group helps them adjust, both emotionally and physically, to their new lives as survivors. Finding other people who’ve been through a similar experience will help with fears and anxiety and provide a forum for you to ask questions to someone who’s already been through this. Sometimes, survivors find that more formal counseling is necessary. If the emotional and mental challenges following your SCA persist or interfere with your life, talk to a professional.
Sudden cardiac arrest is an impactful event, and learning to thrive after surviving SCA can be a challenging journey. Take steps to reduce your physical risks by working with your medical team. Then make sure your emotional needs are being supported. You can do this by joining a SCA survivor support group in your area.
This site provides you with information on the value Survivor Support Groups can provide, and if there is not an active group in your area, use the resources provided on this site to start one. You can use your experiences and knowledge to help others travel the road you are currently on. And enjoy your second chance at life.