Knowing what to do in a first aid emergency such as a cardiac arrest can be the difference between life or death. Every year in Australia about 20,000-25,000 people experience a cardiac arrest outside of hospital, with as little as 5-10% of these people surviving. A cardiac arrest is a deadly event and without appropriate and timely treatment, the victim will not survive. Most cardiac arrests occur in people’s homes, so it is important to know what to do if you are confronted with this emergency situation.
What is a cardiac arrest?
A cardiac arrest is when an electrical malfunction causes the heart to suddenly stop pumping blood resulting in the heart-stopping completely. The heart’s electrical system controls the rate and rhythm of your heart rate, so a malfunction of this can be catastrophic. Your brain and vital organs become starved of oxygen causing you to lose consciousness and stop breathing. It can strike anyone, anywhere at anytime without any prior warning.
Are a heart attack and cardiac arrest the same thing?
A heart attack and cardiac arrest are two different events that both affect that heart, but in different ways. A heart attack is when an artery supplying blood to your heart becomes blocked, stopping blood flow. Often the victim is conscious and may experience physical symptoms in the minutes, hours, and even days prior. A cardiac arrest on the other hand as mentioned above is an electrical malfunction that causes the heart to stop beating suddenly. The victim will be unconscious and not breathing. Even though these are different events, a heart attack can occasionally deteriorate into a cardiac arrest, this is one of the many reasons heart attack symptoms should not be ignored and an urgent response is required.
|Heart Attack||Cardiac Arrest|
|Circulation problem||Electrical problem|
|Artery is blocked causing stoppage of heart||Heart suddenly stops pumping blood causing stoppage of heart|
|Often the victim is conscious and breathing||Victim will be unconscious and not breathing (or having difficulty breathing)|
|May experience physical symptoms such as chest discomfort||Often no symptoms, happens with no warning|
|Urgent medical care is required||Urgent medical care required, CPR and an AED should be used immediately|
What causes a cardiac arrest?
The most common cause is an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as ‘arrhythmia’. An arrhythmia is when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions causing your heart to beat too fast, too slowly or irregularly, this is usually harmless but on occasion can lead to cardiac arrest.
Most life-threatening arrhythmias arise in individuals with preexisting (possibly undiagnosed) heart conditions such as coronary artery disease, enlarged heart (cardiomyopathy), valvular heart disease or congenital heart disease although there are some other causes that may be responsible such as trauma, respiratory problems, drowning, electrocution or allergic reactions. There is also the chance that there is no identifiable cause of a cardiac arrest.
Can cardiac arrest be prevented?
Because it is linked with heart disease, the same risk factors can be applied to reduce your overall risk. Some of these include a family history, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, older age, drug usage and alcohol use.
Knowing your overall risk is important to prevent not only a cardiac arrest event, but to ensure a healthy lifestyle. Regular checkups at your GP can help screen for heart issues and keep you on track.
How to tell if someone goes into cardiac arrest
A cardiac arrest often happens suddenly without warning. Immediate treatment is necessary to save their life as a person can deteriorate rapidly within minutes causing death.
A person in cardiac arrest will:
- Collapse and fall to the ground
- Have no pulse present
- Stop breathing or struggle to breathe
- Lose consciousness
- Unresponsive to talk to touch
Some other symptoms that are associated with cardiac arrest include chest discomfort, shortness of breath, weakness or heart palpitations.
What to do when a cardiac arrest happens
Call emergency services immediately (000), they will give you appropriate instructions and walk you through what to do until an ambulance can arrive. Every second counts, with the first 3-5 minutes crucial in preventing death.
A combination of CPR and a defibrillator (AED) are recommended to treat a cardiac arrest. Evidence of this rapid and life-saving treatment was the difference between life or death for football player Christan Eriksen, who recently collapsed on the field during Euro 2020.
Even if you do not have access to an AED, any form of CPR is better than nothing and can prevent further injury to the brain and vital organs. A combination of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and chest compressions helps to keep blood and oxygen circulating until the heart can be restarted successfully. CPR alone cannot restore a normal heart rhythm but is essential until an AED defibrillator becomes available.
A defibrillator is a device that gives the heart an electric shock via pads applied to the chest to restore regular rhythm. The sooner an AED defibrillator is used, the better chance of survival. Statistics show that chances of survival are 50% greater if an AED defibrillator is used within the first 2 minutes following a cardiac arrest event, so early access to defibrillators is vital.
Are AEDs required in the workplace?
An AED can be used by anyone as the defibrillator gives voice instructions telling you exactly how to administer the shock. The machine is also programmed to only allow a shock when appropriate; you cannot hurt someone by using a defibrillator. Given the increased survival rate when access to an AED defibrillator is quick, even though they are not required by law, having one in the workplace may be the difference in saving your colleague’s life in an emergency. If you are not confident in using an AED defibrillator, taking a first aid course can equip you with the skills and knowledge to assist during any emergency first aid situation.
Can an AED be used on an infant or child?
Warning: Please note that the tips and advice given in this blog are not intended to replace professional medical advice. If you have any doubts, trust your gut and consult a doctor and follow any medical advice given. Always read any product descriptions clearly and follow instructions carefully.