Tom Petty's death shines light on heart health

He was just on tour last week. Now many Tom Petty fans are trying to figure out how he could go from playing for thousands, to dying Monday after a cardiac arrest in his home.

"Sudden cardiac death and cardiac arrest is fairly common," says Dr. Amy Barley, a cardiologist at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center.

She says not only is it common, but often deadly.

"It's not common for people that this happens to at home to be able to survive," Dr. Barley says.

She says only about 20 percent of people who make it to the hospital have a meaningful recovery. A cardiac arrest happens when the heart malfunctions and stops beating, while a heart attack is when a blocked artery keeps blood from getting to the heart. And in most cases, Dr. Barley says a heart attack leads to cardiac arrest.

"An artery suddenly closes and doesn't supply blood supply to the heart," Dr. Barley explains. "And the heart becomes very irritated and starts to develop an abnormal heart rhythm."

Sometimes the two can happen within seconds of each other, but often, people have heart attack symptoms for a while, like chest discomfort, and brush it off.

"Sometimes they will have just mild difficulty breathing and doing regular activities," Dr. Barley says. "Other times they'll have pain in their jaw or their back or their arm or tingling or palpitations and they don't necessarily pay attention to it."

She says awareness is important now more than ever. Even though petty died at age 66, with increases in obesity, diabetes and high blood pressure, a cardiac arrest can happen to people as young as 16.

An icon leaving a legacy that goes beyond music. A reminder to know your risk factors and talk with your doctor, that could save your life.     

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