Posted by: Joe Nuss on Mar 06, 2012
By Duke Medicine
Every minute, an American dies of cardiac arrest. We all know that it is in our best interest to prevent heart disease. After all, it’s the most common cause of cardiac arrest in the U.S. Changing the habits of a nation takes a long time, however, so health professionals such as Duke cardiologist Chris Granger are working to spread a few new common-sense guidelines for the public that could save thousands of lives a year.
People often use the terms “cardiac arrest” and “heart attack” interchangeably, but they are not the same. Cardiac arrest means a person’s heart has stopped beating (for any reason). It is most common in people with heart disease, but it can be the result of other conditions or situations. A person who goes into cardiac arrest collapses, becomes unresponsive and stops breathing; in the earliest moments, he or she may be gasping for air.
A heart attack happens when a blood vessel that supplies the heart is blocked. That means the heart isn’t getting enough blood, which can lead to heart tissue damage. Heart attacks often come with symptoms such as chest pain or discomfort; pain in the arms, back, neck or jaw; nausea; lightheadedness; or a cold sweat.
Although the terms are not synonymous, heart attacks can lead to cardiac arrest. Without immediate treatment, people who go into cardiac arrest will die within minutes.
One key to survival, Granger says, is the presence of a bystander who knows how to provide cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Whether you are a bystander witness, an emergency responder or an employee at the emergency room, everyone has a key role in saving the life of someone in cardiac arrest.
New research from the American Heart Association has prompted new CPR guidelines that now recommend compression-only CPR instead of the old practice of compressions with mouth-to-mouth “rescue” breathing.
If you witness an adult collapse and become unresponsive, sometimes gasping for air, take these simple steps right away:
- Call 911.
- Begin chest-compression CPR.
- Do not worry about harming the person – he or she is dying!
Kneeling over the victim with arms straight and elbows locked, press hard and fast in the center of the chest at a rate of about 100 compressions per minute. Push hard to depress the breast bone between 1-2 inches, and then fully release between each compression so that the person’s chest can expand before the next compression.
“Keep compressing the chest until they wake up, an AED is applied, or someone takes over,” says Dr. James Jollis, a Duke cardiologist. Victims who receive bystander CPR are twice as likely to survive, yet only one in five people suffering cardiac arrest in North Carolina receives bystander CPR.
To increase North Carolina’s rate, Jollis and others are working on a program to teach CPR to every eighth-grader in the state, by training teachers to teach the technique to students.
Other efforts include teaching CPR to all heart attack victims and their families on discharge from the hospital, and to all employees of every medical center in the state – accountants, administrators and cafeteria workers alike.