Most people who experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital will die within a few minutes or suffer permanent brain damage resulting from inadequate blood flow and oxygen to the brain. A technique known as hands-only cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can more than double a person’s chances of survival, and it may be effectively performed in the home, at work or on the sidewalk by family members, friends or other bystanders with little training.
“The battle of sudden cardiac arrest is won and lost in the field,” says emergency-medical physician Wally Ghurabi, D.O., medical director of the Nethercutt Emergency Center at UCLA Medical Center, Santa Monica. “If cardiac-arrest patients come into the ER with a normal heart rhythm, they do well 50-to-60 percent of the time. If they arrive without a normal heart beat, their outcomes are usually very poor.”
Despite newer guidelines that make it easier to perform CPR, less than one-third of cardiac arrest victims get the potentially life-saving procedure from bystanders, according to the American Heart Association.
Hands-only CPR uses chest compressions to maintain blood circulation and breathing until emergency medical help arrives. Experts say that if you see someone suddenly collapse, first call 9-1-1. Next, shake the person and check their breathing. If he or she is unresponsive and not breathing or not breathing normally, lock your hands together and push hard and fast on the center of the chest 100 times or more.
The big difference in newer CPR guidelines is that the priority has shifted from focusing on airway, breathing and then compressions (A-B-C) to focusing first on compressions, then airway and breathing (C-A-B).
“Previously, we used to tell people to first adjust the head and then give mouth-to-mouth resuscitation,” explains Dr. Ghurabi. “Now we’re telling people not to waste time pushing the victim’s head back and giving the victim air because there’s warm, oxygenated blood right there that can be circulated to the brain earlier.”
According to Dr. Ghurabi, the benefits of performing hands-only CPR far outweigh any disadvantages. If a person faints or collapses for a reason other than cardiac arrest, such as low blood sugar in a diabetic patient, the person will usually wake up and moan or groan when pressure is placed on their chest. In that case, you should leave the patient alone and wait for emergency help to arrive, Dr. Ghurabi says. But for patients suffering from cardiac arrest, acting quickly can save lives.
CPR training for lay people is offered through some local and county fire departments and is also available online at www.heart.org.