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Prepared Bystanders Save Lives When Cardiac Arrest Strikes

HealthDay News
by -- Steven Reinberg
Updated: Dec 24th 2019

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TUESDAY, Dec. 24, 2019 (HealthDay News) -- Few Americans survive cardiac arrest when it happens outside a hospital, but if more people knew how to recognize it and do CPR the odds might be better, a new study finds.

Only about 8% of those who suffer a cardiac arrest -- a sudden stoppage of the heart -- survive. Simply knowing what to do and doing it can increase the chance of survival, researchers say.

Three steps can save lives:

  • Recognizing the signs of cardiac arrest -- loss of consciousness, no pulse or breathing -- and calling 911.
  • Beginning cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) using chest compressions. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends using the steady beat of the classic disco song "Stayin' Alive" as a guide.
  • Using an automated external defibrillator (AED) to deliver an electric shock to restart a victim's heart.

Bystanders should start CPR whenever someone is unresponsive and not breathing normally, the AHA advises.

"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%," Dr. William Brady, an emergency doctor at University of Virginia, wrote recently in the New England Journal of Medicine.

A 2010 review of more than 10,000 cardiac arrests found that 22% of patients who received bystander CPR survived, compared with 8% of those who didn't.

And a 2018 study of more than 50,000 cardiac arrests found that 67% of patients treated with an AED by a bystander survived, compared with 43% of those whose hearts were shocked after rescue crews arrived.

To improve survival odds, more people need to be trained, especially in CPR, the researchers said. Brady estimated that only about 2% of Americans a year get CPR training.

Efforts that might get more people to start CPR early include making training sessions shorter and using smartphone apps to alert trained people to a cardiac arrest near them, he suggested.

"The next major advance in cardiac arrest management is not a new hospital-based treatment nor fire-rescue intervention. It is this pre-arrival care performed by a bystander before fire-rescue personnel arrive and long before a patient is transported to the hospital. This care can allow victims of cardiac arrest to return to their lives and families," Brady said in a university news release.

More information

The American Heart Association has more on bystander CPR.