Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have missed life-threatening warning signs that could have saved his life, a top doctor says.
"Too often, heart attacks that kill people while they are asleep are thought to have come on ‘out of the blue,’ but most often there are warning signs that are overlooked," says Dr. Chauncey Crandall.
Scalia, 79, was found dead Saturday morning, after spending the previous day on a quail hunting expedition and attending a private party. He left the party early and, while news accounts differ, some quote friends as saying he told them he wasn’t feeling well.
Although Scalia appeared vigorous, he had a history of heart trouble, high blood pressure, and was recently considered too weak to undergo surgery for a shoulder problem, according to US News & World Report.
“A heart attack resulting in the stoppage of the heart is known as sudden cardiac death. This can happen at night during sleep, like with Justice Scalia, but it can also happen while people are awake, which is what happened to James Gandolfini,” notes Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic. The actor died in 2013 while on a trip to Italy.
reports that Scalia's relatives and doctors knew about his health conditions, but experts say the fact that the concerns were kept from the public is in keeping with the practices of the court.
Unlike the White House, which regularly releases updates on the president's health, the Supreme Court does not have set guidelines regarding what they do and don't disclose publicly.
About 325,000 people die from sudden cardiac death each year, which is the largest cause of death in the U.S. It occurs when a heart attack stops blood flow to the heart, which causes the heart to beat too quickly and irregularly, and it ultimately stops, notes Dr. Crandall, chief of the cardiac transplant program at the renowned Palm Beach Cardiovascular Clinic.
“We used to think that sudden cardiac death occurred suddenly but now we know that most people experience symptoms. Unfortunately, too many people ignore them. I know this from what I've seen in my practice, and now there are studies that back this up," notes Dr. Crandall, author of the Heart Health Report
He points to a recent study that found 50 percent of people suffering cardiac arrest had experienced symptoms during the month before the attack, which then reoccurred during the 24-hour period before it. Most of the patients ignored the symptoms, but those who called 911 were most likely to survive, says the study, which is published in the Annals of Internal Medicine
This study followed previous research done on Oregon men. Among 567 men who had out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, 53 percent had symptoms prior to the cardiac arrest. Of those with symptoms, 56 percent had chest pain, 13 percent had shortness of breath, and 4 percent had dizziness, fainting, or palpitations. Almost 80 percent of the symptoms occurred between four weeks and one hour before the sudden cardiac arrest, this study found.
“Justice Scalia spent the day exerting himself and then, feeling poorly, he excused himself. He may have had chest pain, or he may have just been feeling ill, nauseous and sweaty. No doubt he didn’t recognize what was happening, but if he only had, and summoned help, he might have been saved,” says Dr. Crandall.
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