Cardiac Arrest: 2 Ways to Respond

Learn the signs of cardiac arrest and how to respond to the health emergency

Cardiac Arrest: 2 Ways to Respond

Cardiac arrest claims the lives of over 135 million people worldwide annually, and killed 475,000 Americans in just one year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Sadly, the majority of people who experience cardiac arrest, especially outside of a hospital setting, won't survive.

It turns out bystanders like you might be able to change those statistics. University of Virginia emergency medicine physician William J. Brady and his team found that only 8% of people survive cardiac arrests outside of a hospital. The chance of a person surviving is significantly greater if a bystander gets involved after witnessing cardiac arrest.


A review of 10,000 cardiac arrest patients was conducted in 2010 and found 22.1% of patients who received pre-arrival care (CPR or other assistance prior to being admitted to the hospital) survived, while only 7.8% of patients who did not receive such care survived.

Warning Signs of Cardiac Arrest

If you notice someone who has completely stopped breathing and has lost consciousness, there's a good chance he or she may be experiencing a cardiac episode, according to the AHA.

It's important to note that this is different than a heart attack. During a heart attack, one or more of the coronary arteries is blocked and the heart stops receiving its normal supply of blood. This sometimes causes cardiac arrest. Other things can cause cardiac arrest as well. During cardiac arrest, a malfunction causes the heart to stop pumping blood effectively, usually very suddenly, so the rest of the body – the brain, lungs, and other major organs – is starved of its supply of blood and oxygen.

While some people might have symptoms directly before cardiac arrest — chest pains, breathing problems, fatigue or weakness, or heart palpitations — this condition can sometimes come on suddenly. If a person collapses and is not responding at all, check for a pulse. If they don't have one, it's safe to assume they may be experiencing a cardiac event. If you know how, perform CPR. Do not perform CPR if the person has a pulse or if they are breathing in any way.

How to Perform CPR

This step-by-step guide has easy instructions for learning CPR.

Dr. Oz recommends learning to associate CPR with the songs “Stayin' Alive" or “Row Row Row Your Boat." That's about 100 to 120 pumps-per-minute, which translates to every beat of each song. He you don't need to do the mouth-to-mouth portion of CPR. He says it's not medically necessary to keep someone alive. Dr. Oz says these are the most important steps:

1. Point to someone and direct them to call 9-1-1. Point to another and tell them to get an AED if it's available.

2. Place one hand over the person's breast bone and your other hand on top of that one. Lean over the body to use your entire body weight to pump, and push down about two inches into the chest and then repeat. If you break someone's ribs in the process, says Dr. Oz, then so be it. It's better to keep someone alive now and worry about any broken bones later.

To be clear – no matter how comfortable you feel performing CPR, and no matter how informed you are about cardiac arrest, you should always direct someone to dial 911 immediately or call yourself if someone else is performing CPR.

When to Use an AED

AEDs, or automated external defibrillators, work by sending an electrical shock to the heart, which can restore its normal rhythm. They have easy-to-understand visual and verbal clues for people using them to help others. Here's an easy step-by-step guide for using one.

Any bystander who is able to quickly jump into action by performing CPR with or without a defibrillator could keep someone's heart beating for several crucial minutes between the start of the attack and the arrival of medical professionals. As Dr. Brady stated in his journal article, “for every minute that a person with out-of-hospital cardiac arrest goes without CPR and defibrillation, the chance of survival decreases by 7 to 10%."

Those numbers are enormous when talking about a life-or-death situation. The ability to recognize the signs of cardiac arrest, learning CPR, and most importantly, having the confidence to take action, could save a person's life.

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