The Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation, based in Pine, recently published survey results showing that people are less concerned about heart attacks and episodes of cardiac arrest than they are about other, less deadly health problems. Few of the 1,200 people surveyed knew the difference between a heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest, estimated to be the third most-common cause of the death in the United States, after heart and disease and cancer, according to survey results. Mary Newman, the foundation's president and co-founder, provides more details below.
Why does sudden cardiac arrest get less attention than other leading causes of death and disability in the U.S.?
The public doesn't understand the life-threatening nature of sudden cardiac arrest or the fact that CPR and defibrillation — when provided immediately by bystanders — can restore life and preserve brain function. In addition, SCA can be mistaken for fainting or a seizure and is often confused with heart attack.
Since only about 10 percent of people who suffer SCA survive on average, there are few people to raise awareness about the cause.
What's the difference between heart attack and sudden cardiac arrest?
A heart attack can be compared to a plumbing problem in the heart. It occurs when part of the heart's blood supply is reduced or blocked, causing the heart muscle to become injured or die. The person is conscious and might complain of chest pain and other symptoms.
Sudden cardiac arrest is different. SCA occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating. As a result, blood no longer is pumped throughout the body or the brain. The person loses consciousness and appears lifeless. Some victims gasp and shake as if they were having a seizure. Death can occur within minutes. Genetic abnormalities in the heart's electrical system often cause SCA. The condition can also be caused by a blow to the chest or being struck by lightning.
What should people do if they witness someone going into cardiac arrest?
It's important to know that most episodes of sudden cardiac arrest occur in the home. So the person in need of resuscitation from SCA is likely to be someone the bystander knows. Bystanders need to recognize the signs of SCA. If someone suddenly passes out, is unresponsive and is not breathing or only gasping occasionally, there's a good chance that person is in cardiac arrest. It's critical to call 911 for professional help. In some places, 911 dispatchers coach callers through lifesaving measures.
The next step is to start chest compressions, or hands-only CPR. Immediate CPR can triple the chances of survival for SCA victims. The rescuer should press hard (about two inches deep) and fast (100-120 times per minute) on the center of the chest. The rhythm of the Bee Gees tune “Stayin' Alive” mimics the desired beat.
Finally, if there is an automated external defibrillator nearby, the rescuer should ask someone to retrieve the AED. AEDs have clear instructions and are designed for use by the public. Treatment with an AED dramatically improves the chance of survival.
Originally published in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review here.