What to do when someone has a sudden cardiac arrest
Every year, an estimated 17.3 million will die from heart disease and stroke, accounting for around 30 per cent of all total deaths. Meanwhile, there are 60,000 cardiac arrests which occur outside the hospital each year in the UK.
In 2013 alone, the emergency medical services attempted to resuscitate 28,000 people after they suffered an out of hospital cardiac arrest - only 8.6 per cent survived. It’s important for people to understand what sudden cardiac arrest is, and how to react in the case of an emergency.
What is sudden cardiac arrest?
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) occurs when the heart suffers an electrical malfunction. The malfunction causes chaos within the heart, and stops blood from pumping around the body. An SCA can occur at any time and can affect anyone, regardless of age.
People might confuse SCA with a heart attack, but the two are quite different. Whilst SCA is an electrical problem, a heart attack is a circulation problem caused when the blood supply is blocked.
What causes sudden cardiac arrest?
SCA can be caused by a number of different things. The most immediate cause is an irregular heart rhythm, whilst heart disease is another common cause. Heart birth defects, heart attacks and strain on the heart can also cause SCA.
Symptoms of SCA include sudden collapse, lack of breathing or no breathing at all.
How to treat sudden cardiac arrest
When someone suffers from SCA, it’s important to act fast. Without immediate attention, death will occur within minutes.
If effective CPR is used alongside a defibrillator within the first 3-5 minutes of collapse, chances of survival increase from 6 per cent to 74 per cent. Defibrillators are electrical devices that provide a shock to the heart. Whilst they may seem intimidating at first glance, they are very easy to use and many now come with voice or visual prompts to guide users through the process.
What to do in an emergency
If someone near you collapses, phone 999 immediately. If they are not breathing, they may have suffered a SCA.
Once the emergency services have been called, you can begin CPR:
- Place the heel of your hand on the breastbone in the centre of the chest. Using your other hand, place on top of your first hand and interlock the fingers.
- Position yourself so that your shoulders are above your hands. Keep your arms straight.
- Using your bodyweight, press straight down 5-6cm onto the chest.
- With your fingers interlocked and your hands remaining on the chest, allow the chest to come back to its original position.
- Continue this process 30 times at a rate of 100-120 compressions per minute.
If you have access to a defibrillator, it's important to use it as soon as possible. Using the prompts as a guide, anyone can use a defibrillator. A defibrillator will only ever deliver an electric shock when it can detect an irregular heartbeat, so you needn’t worry about using it out of turn.
When someone has a cardiac arrest, every minute without defibrillation and effective CPR will significantly reduce their chances of survival by up to 10 per cent.
defibshop, the UK’s independent defibrillator supplier. For more information about sudden cardiac arrest and how to respond, take a look at their infographic
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