Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Studies have shown that cardiac arrest, which causes sudden unexpected stoppage of heart function, can be prevented by identifying its early signs.

During cardiac arrest, the heart stops pumping blood and the sudden stoppage deprives cells of oxygen. Fainting, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations, shortness of breath and weakness are some of its common signs.

In a recent study published in Lancet Digital Health, researchers found that these warning signs can be different in men and women. Since cardiac arrest claims the lives of 90% of people who experience it outside the hospital, predicting the condition and early identification of these warning signs are essential.

"Harnessing warning symptoms to perform effective triage for those who need to make a 911 call could lead to early intervention and prevention of imminent death," Sumeet Chugh, a senior author of the study, said.

For the study, researchers analyzed data gathered from two well-known community-based studies, the Prediction of Sudden Death in Multi-Ethnic Communities (PRESTO) study in Ventura County, California, and the Sudden Unexpected Death Study (SUDS), based in Portland, Oregon.

According to the findings, 50% of individuals who experience a sudden cardiac arrest have a telling symptom 24 hours prior to the occurrence.

Shortness of breath is reportedly its most prominent symptom in women, while for men, it is chest pain. A small subgroup of people also claimed to have experienced palpitations, flu-like symptoms and seizures.

"This is the first community-based study to evaluate the association of warning symptoms — or sets of symptoms — with imminent sudden cardiac arrest using a comparison group with EMS-documented symptoms recorded as part of routine emergency care," Eduardo Marbán, executive director of the Smidt Heart Institute and the Mark Siegel Family Foundation distinguished professor, said in a news release.

Researchers hope their study will pave the way for further studies on symptoms to enhance the prediction of sudden cardiac arrest.

"Our findings could lead to a new paradigm for prevention of sudden cardiac death," Chugh said. "Next, we will supplement these key sex-specific warning symptoms with additional features — such as clinical profiles and biometric measures — for improved prediction of sudden cardiac arrest."