If someone you love suddenly went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing, would you know what to do? Many Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, but with the right tools and citizen training, thousands could survive.
During sudden cardiac arrest, the heart muscle stops pumping and quivers, a condition called ventricular fibrillation. A small percentage of patients who suffer a sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital survive.
While celebrating her 48th birthday, Julie Lycksell suddenly collapsed and stopped breathing. Her friend asked someone to call 911, while her husband and a restaurant patron started cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Within a minute or 2, a policeman trained in using an automated external defibrillator (AED) arrived and administered life-saving pulses of electricity. Unlike most sudden cardiac arrest victims, Lycksell had no history of heart trouble, and doctors could not determine why she developed an abnormal heart rhythm.
"The doctor told me it was just a strange thing that happened to me," Lycksell says. "If the policeman hadn't had a defibrillator, I'd be dead."
Rapid initiation of the American Heart Association's Chain of Survival may save the lives of people who experience sudden cardiac arrest.
Here's what to do:
The American Heart Association, American Red Cross, and other organizations conduct classes to teach citizens how to administer CPR. Researchers have found that young people and adults older than 60 were able to learn the life-saving skill online and then successfully perform CPR on a mannequin.
Early defibrillation plays a key role in improving the odds someone will survive sudden cardiac arrest without brain damage. The American Heart Association's emergency care guidelines place a stronger emphasis on early defibrillation and improved access to AEDs. Heartsaver AED CPR classes include information about how to use the devices.
Many studies have found that about half of those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest will survive when trained people administer CPR and AED CPR. Overall survival rates are improving as more and more communities increase their access to AEDs.
AEDs are found in airports, shopping malls, casinos, community centers, and sports or medical facilities and some businesses. AEDs can be somewhat costly and are available over the counter, without prescription. If you purchase an AED, be sure to get proper training on how to safely use it.
American Heart Association
Citizen CPR Foundation, Inc.
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Public Health Agency of Canada
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Last reviewed January 2016 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.