Posted by Bob Trenkamp on 09/02/2012

I wish I could reach all the newspaper and television reporters. Many say or write "heart attack" when what they mean is "cardiac arrest."

Why is this a big deal? Both are true medical emergencies, and both require bystander intervention for survival, but each is treated differently.

Most people don't die of heart attacks, unless the heart attack leads to a cardiac arrest. A cardiac arrest happens when your heart stops beating and you stop breathing. You are clinically dead. Many cardiac arrests are caused by severe heart attacks, and many are not.

A cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. A heart attack is a plumbing problem. You don't do CPR for a heart attack. You don't use therapeutic hypothermia for a heart attack.

If you see someone having a heart attack, you call 911, you let the victim assume whatever position is most comfortable, you give the victim an aspirin to chew, and you do not let the victim eat or drink anything.

If you see someone have a cardiac arrest, you call 911, you get the victim on their back on a hard, flat surface, you tilt their head back to open the airway, and you begin pressing the chest at least 2 inches deep at a rate of 100-120 times per minute. If there is an AED nearby have someone get it for you and use it. Don't stop compressing the chest unless someone else takes over for you, unless an attached AED says "don't touch the patient," or unless the patient starts to move and look around.

Calling a cardiac arrest a heart attack is a problem, because it promotes confusion in the bystander community.

Two people in the USA died of a cardiac arrest during the time it took me to type this note.