First Aid: Cardiac Arrest: February 27, 2011

It can happen in the blink of an eye. “Cardiac arrest is immediate and sudden. It’s instantaneous,” warns Dr. Edward Palank, a Lee Memorial Health System cardiologist. A cardiac arrest is when the heart abruptly loses function and the electrical impulses become scattered and chaotic. If you witness someone go into cardiac arrest, take action and fast.

“Number 1 is call 9-1-1. Get some assistance so you get 9-1-1 there and as a first responder, you want to start CPR. And you don’t need to do mouth to mouth; just chest compressions. But certainly you want to have someone call 9-1-1,” says Dr. Palank.

CPR keeps the blood and oxygen flowing to the heart and brain until defibrillation can be administered. “If you respond early with defibrillation, and that is the key, it’s early. For every minute you are not defibrillated, your survival drops by 10 percent. That tells you that if you go into a cardiac arrest, you want to get defibrillated immediately.”

Over the past several years, defibrillators have been more widely available since a cardiac arrest can happen without any warning. “You see these automatic defibrillators that are on airplanes, malls, golf courses, where individuals that don’t have formal training can actually defibrillate and save a life.” Because of this, recovery rates are better than ever before. “If you are defibrillated, we have many patients that have sustained cardiac arrest, defibrillated, saved, and are back completely function with no limitation,” says Dr. Palank.

Other health complications can prompt a cardiac arrest: drowning, choking, and trauma. It’s also been known to happen without any clear cause.