What Is a Cardiac Arrest?

difibrillattorI couldn’t let National Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) month go by without a mention. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), over 90% of those suffering a cardiac arrest outside of a hospital died. The awareness campaign wants to improve those odds.

Did the campaign work? Do you now know the difference between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest?  Don’t worry, I have experienced both and I didn’t know the difference for quite a while afterwards.

Plumbing vs. Electrical

A heart attack is plumbing – your arteries are blocked.  A cardiac arrest is electrical – your heart stops beating (think death).  Here are the main differences:

  1. A heart attack occurs when a blocked artery prevents blood from reaching a section of the heart.
  2. Symptoms may be immediate and intense, or they may start slowly and persist for hours, days or weeks before the attack occurs.
  3. The heart usually does not stop beating during a heart attack.
  4. Cardiac arrest occurs suddenly and often without warning.   Cardiac arrest is triggered by an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heart attack vs cardiac arrestheartbeat.

For those that are more visual, check out the Infographic on the right provided by the American Heart Association.

How To Save a Life

What should you do if you think someone might be in cardiac arrest? The AHA recommends the following:

  1. Yell for help. Tell someone to call 911 and someone else to find an automated external defibrillator (AED).
  2. Check breathing – if the person is not breathing, start CPR.
  3. Begin chest compressions. Use the AED if available.
  4. Keep up the chest compressions until help arrives.

Immediate assistance is the difference between life and death for someone in cardiac arrest. You can read more about the campaign and sudden cardiac arrest here.

Photo credit: Cliff Johnson / Foter / CC BY-SA

Why Get CPR Certified?

CPRBefore I answer that, let me ask a question.  How can a cardiac arrest survivor and self-proclaimed HeartGeek not know CPR or how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED)?  I go around preaching about heart health, gratitude and doing the right thing, yet I wasn’t equipped to help someone experiencing a cardiac emergency.

Time for HeartGeek to man up and get some CPR training!

Chain of Survival

First a little history.  I survived a cardiac arrest because of the quick actions of my wife and the early medical attention I received from EMTs and doctors.  In my case, a near flawless execution of what is known as the “chain of survival”.

The chain of survival significantly increases the chances of survival for someone who experiences a cardiac arrest, heart attack, or stroke.  The five links or steps in the chain are:

  1. Early recognition and call for help, such as dialing 9-1-1
  2. Early CPR
  3. Early defibrillation
  4. Effective advanced life support
  5. Integrated post-cardiac arrest care

Step one is a no brainer and is typically well  executed.  Step two is where things start to go awry.  Sadly, only about 30% of cardiac arrest victims get CPR from a bystander.  Think that could have something to do with less than 10% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest victims surviving?

Paying it Forward

I signed up for a CPR/AED class provided through the American Red Cross.  My class was instructor led, lasted three hours, and provided a lot of hands-on practice.

After some brief overview information, we jumped right in to the hands-on part of the agenda.  There were only about a dozen people in my class and we were paired up into teams.  With our partners, we practiced assessing the scene and and preparing the victim to receive aid.

Now it was time to bring out the manikins (you don’t practice CPR on each other).  I had a good idea of what to do here, but going through the paces made me feel more confident that I could pull it off in a real-life situation.  There are three simple steps for CPR:

  1. Give 30 chest compression at 100 beats per minute (see Stayin Alive)
  2. Give two rescue breaths
  3. Repeat

We next moved to the part of training I was most interested in, use of the automated external defibrillator (AED).  If you are like me, use of the AED is the most frightening aspect of providing assistance.  Shocking a loved one or total stranger with a device you have never used before is intimidating.  Rest assured, it’s not as hard as it sounds.

It is necessary that you make sure the victim is not in water and make note of any body piercings (or any metal) or medical patches.  Fire up the AED and it will provide audible step-by-step instructions.  When placing the patches on the victim, avoid those piercings and medical patches if you found any.

The AED will analyze the heart rhythm and make a determination to proceed with a shock.  Next, clear the area, push the button, and the shock is delivered.  At this point, continue CPR until assistance arrives.

The class concluded with instructions for dealing with choking and head/spinal injuries.  I will let you learn more about those in class.

So Why Get CPR Training?

Because four out of five cardiac arrests happen at home.  The life you save will likely be someone you know and love.  Also, it’s easy and it’s the right thing to do!  And yes, I can save your life.