Everything You Need to Know About Cardiac Arrest

Written by
Rebecca Smith

Mar 25, 2019

Mar 25, 2019 • by Rebecca Smith

Every year, roughly 610,000 people die of heart disease in America. To boil it down, that means that one out of every four deaths that occur in the United States is due to heart issues.

Heart attacks themselves are rarely fatal. However, the sudden cardiac arrest that follows many heart attacks is fatal 95% of the time. And one of the key components to surviving cardiac arrest is getting help immediately so you can get to the hospital as soon as possible.

If you’re not sure what you’re supposed to do in the event of cardiac arrest, keep reading. We’ll go over the signs and symptoms of this deadly medical emergency so you can recognize it in yourself and others.

What Is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency caused by an electrical malfunction in your heart. Many people confuse cardiac arrest and heart attack or assume that they’re the same thing. However, the two are very different.

During a heart attack, your heart could continue to beat, supplying a compromised amount of blood to the body before you get help. However, in the case of cardiac arrest, your heart will stop beating completely.

When your heart stops functioning, it causes your body to lose consciousness. You stop breathing and you become unresponsive. Immediately, your brain and vital organs lose their circulation.

The only hope for recovery after cardiac arrest is a swift response, otherwise, brain damage and death will occur in mere minutes.

How to Recognize the Signs in Yourself and Someone Else

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest in yourself is difficult because as soon as your heart stops beating you will become unresponsive. However, there are a few symptoms of heart attack that you can pay attention to that can help you get to a hospital before cardiac arrest occurs.

Some of the symptoms of a heart attack are:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Sweating
  • Upper body pain
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Lightheadedness

These are signs of a heart attack, which can mean that cardiac arrest is incoming and you need to seek help immediately.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of cardiac arrest in another person is equally important as recognizing it in yourself. By the time someone is in cardiac arrest, they’re relying on your quick reaction to stay alive.

There are two main signs that someone is in the middle of cardiac arrest. If they become unresponsive suddenly and they have no breathing, they’re having a medical emergency.

What to Do if You Experience Symptoms of Cardiac Arrest

We mentioned before that a heart attack isn’t the same as cardiac arrest. However, cardiac arrest often comes right after a heart attack. By the time you are in cardiac arrest, it’s too late for you to do anything to help yourself. That’s why it’s important to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack in yourself, while you still have time.

If you think that you’re experiencing a heart attack, the first thing you need to do is call 9-1-1 or the local emergency line as soon as possible. This will start the ball rolling on getting you the help you need.

Then you need to sit or lie down. Stop all activity and move into a resting position that will be easy for the emergency medical technicians to find you.

If you can tolerate Aspirin, chew and swallow it with water. This will help your blood thin out and can lessen the effects of a heart attack.

From there, all you need to do is rest and try to stay calm while you wait for the emergency medical team to arrive.

What to Do if You Witness Someone in Cardiac Arrest

If you come across someone who you suspect is in cardiac arrest, the first thing you need to do is approach them and tap them on the shoulders, trying to get their attention. It might feel a little silly, but it’s the best way to ensure that the person is having a medical emergency and didn’t just pass out.

Once you have determined that they are unresponsive, you need to shout for help. Tell whoever is nearby to call 9-1-1 and to bring you the nearest AED, or an automated external defibrillator. If you’re the only one there, this task falls into your hands.

Next, you want to check for the person’s pulse and breathing. If there is no breathing, it’s time to start CPR. There are a few key factors to remember when doing this:

  • Push down hard, at least two inches worth of depression
  • Push to the rhythm of the song Stayin’ Alive by the Bee Gees, or 100-120 beats per minute
  • Make sure that the chest rises entirely before compressing again

If this is a two person rescue, you need to continue CPR even after the AED arrives. The second person will prepare the AED for use. If you’re the only one there, you will need to work the AED yourself.

AEDs are designed to be easy to use even for the layperson. You can see more about using an AED here.

Following the prompts on the AED, begin CPR again and repeat. Continue this until help arrives.

Be Prepared and Save a Life

Witnessing cardiac arrest is scary. While you sit here and read this article, you might think that you won't be able to remember this information when the time comes. However, you might be surprised how you react in the face of an emergency.

If you have any doubts about your ability to be a basic life support provider, consider taking a CPR and first aid class to prepare yourself for an emergency.

If this article interested you, maybe it’s time you consider a career in the medical field. For more information about a medical career, contact us today!