Increased awareness can save lives

Sudden cardiac arrest is the sudden onset of a dangerous heartbeat or the complete loss of a heartbeat – a condition requiring immediate medical attention. More than 360,000 cardiac arrests occur each year outside of a hospital in the United States, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

Cardiac arrest can affect anyone, even if they don’t have pre-existing heart disease. It can happen suddenly or be preceded by other symptoms. By knowing how to recognize cardiac arrest, how to respond to it, and how to treat it, you can have the power to save someone’s life. (October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month.)

The key to treating cardiac arrest is first to recognize it. Symptoms can be unexplained collapse, loss of consciousness, lack of breathing or pulse, or even seizure-like movements. If you see this happening to a person, first determine if they are responding by shaking them and yelling at them to see if they are responding. And check if there’s a pulse in the wrist or neck, and try to breathe. Immediately call 911 and begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), if possible, and have someone bring an automated external defibrillator (AED) if one is available on site, says Eli Friedman, MD , medical director of sports cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. AEDs are devices that can monitor a person in cardiac arrest and deliver a heart shock to help return the heart to normal rhythm, if necessary.

Eli Friedman, MD, medical director of sports cardiology at the Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

“If you witness cardiac arrest and react quickly, you can potentially save someone’s life,” says Dr. Friedman. “There is no doubt that rapid recognition of cardiac arrest, with rapid responsiveness and with CPRs and AEDs, saves lives.”

Causes of cardiac arrest

There are many causes of cardiac arrest. The most common cause in people over 35 is coronary artery disease. In severe cases, blood flow to the heart muscle is severely restricted or even stopped, resulting in dangerous heart rhythms (ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia) causing cardiac arrest. This is otherwise known as a myocardial infarction (eg a heart attack).

It is important to note that although heart attacks can cause cardiac arrest, not all forms of cardiac arrest are due to heart attacks. Other causes of cardiac origin may include weak heart muscle (heart failure) or valvular heart disease (severe narrowing or leakage of a heart valve). In those under 35, the causes are more likely to include a disease that a person was born with. These can include abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system, malformations of the heart arteries, or problems with the heart muscle itself.

Yet other causes of cardiac arrest have nothing to do with the heart itself, but rather abnormalities in other organ systems. These can include blood clots that travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), severe metabolic abnormalities in the body, and even problems with body temperature. These problems tend to occur in very sick and hospitalized patients.

“Diagnostic tests, such as EKGs and echocardiograms can detect some of these conditions,” Dr. Friedman said. “The most important thing to do is to check if you have any heart symptoms (chest pain, difficulty breathing, jump or rapid heartbeat or fainting) or if you have a family history of early onset heart disease.

How to be ready?

There are many causes of cardiac arrest. The most common cause in people over 35 is coronary artery disease. In severe cases, blood flow to the heart muscle is severely restricted or even stopped, resulting in dangerous heart rhythms (ventricular fibrillation or ventricular tachycardia) causing cardiac arrest. This is otherwise known as a myocardial infarction (heart attack).

It is important to note that while heart attacks can cause cardiac arrest, not all forms of cardiac arrest are due to heart attacks. Other causes of cardiac origin may include weak heart muscle (heart failure) or valvular heart disease (severe narrowing or leakage of a heart valve). In those under 35, the causes are more likely to include a disease that a person was born with. These can include abnormalities in the heart’s electrical system, malformations of the heart arteries, or problems with the heart muscle itself.

Yet other causes of cardiac arrest have nothing to do with the heart itself, but rather abnormalities in other organ systems. These can include blood clots that travel to the lungs (pulmonary embolism), severe metabolic abnormalities in the body, and even problems with body temperature. These problems tend to occur in very sick and hospitalized patients.

“Diagnostic tests, such as EKGs and echocardiograms can detect some of these conditions,” Dr. Friedman said. “The most important thing to do is to check if you have them.

heart symptoms (chest pain, difficulty breathing, skipping or accelerated beta heart rate, or fainting) or have a family history of early onset heart disease.

AED and performing CPR

Cardiac arrest can happen anywhere, anytime. While you often see AEDs at airports, local gyms, and grocery stores, you’re much more likely to witness cardiac arrest in your home than in any other location, Dr. Friedman said. The best way to be prepared to deal with cardiac arrest is to know how to perform CPR and how to use an AED. CPR or an AED should be used after calling 911 to get first responders to the scene as quickly as possible.

When performing CPR, place your hands in the middle of the person’s chest and push hard and quickly. Push to a depth of about two inches, at about 100-120 compressions per minute (or to the beat of the Bee Gees song “Staying Alive”, says Dr. Friedman. If an AED is available, someone who is qualified Using it can open the case and apply both electrodes as shown.The device will turn on and tell the user when to perform CPR, when to stop – and when and how to deliver a shock if needed.

“Like everything in life, practice makes perfect,” said Dr. Friedman. “The more you practice CPR and use an AED, the more ready you will be to help save a life.”

Advanced Cardiac Resuscitation (ACLS) courses, offered by the Baptist Health Center for Advancement of Learning, are designed for healthcare providers who lead or assist in the resuscitation of patients with cardiac arrest.

About Michael Bill

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