Anyone who watches TV probably understands the basic concept of cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR — but what do you really know about it beyond the hype? Is there more to it than just kneeling beside someone on the ground and beating on their chest? Proper application of this life-saving technique could literally be the difference between life and death for someone you love.
Each year, approximately 360,000 people suffer sudden cardiac arrest. The majority of them die, in part because the people around them did not know how to do effective CPR or how to use an AED machine. For every minute that goes by without resuscitation, a person’s risk of death increases by 10 percent. CPR education is the key to better outcomes for those with sudden cardiac arrest.
What is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?
A layperson might associate CPR with a heart attack, but sudden cardiac arrest is more complex than what you’ll see on TV. It is actually an electrical problem like a short in the wiring. The heart relies on electrical impulses to know when to beat. The short changes the heart’s rhythm leading to ventricular fibrillation and stopping blood flow to the brain.
Sudden cardiac arrest could result from a mechanical problem with the heart such as cardiomyopathy, but that is just one possible cause. Allergic reaction, trauma and drowning are all potential sudden cardiac arrests. Many people who experience this appear otherwise healthy.
What is CPR?
CPR has been around for over a century. It started when Dr. H.R. Silvester created a means for artificial respiration called the Silvester Method. Advancements in resuscitation science have improved Dr. Silvester’s original plan. To understand CPR and its purpose, simply break down the label:
- Cardio = heart
- Pulmonary = lungs
- Resuscitation = to restore
When performing CPR, you are restoring blood flow and oxygenation to a person with sudden cardiac arrest. By pressing on the chest, the heart is forced to pump; essentially filling the void left by the electrical problem that stopped it from beating.
Technique is an important part of efficient CPR. Doing CPR wrong means ineffective blood flow and can even cause injury. CPR is not difficult, and with proper training, it can feel like second nature. That is why education is a necessity.
What is an AED?
AED is something you often hear about in conjunction with CPR. An automated external defibrillator is a portable device that can shock the heart back into rhythm. You will see signs for them in public buildings and businesses. Most sudden cardiac arrests involve an unsynchronized heart rhythm. The AED provides an electrical shock that can restore that rhythm and force the heart to beat.
AED is not the same thing as CPR, but something you may learn to use as part of the training.
What You Should Know about CPR
Today’s CPR focuses more on chest compression, or the hands-only approach, explains the American Heart Association. Studies show that blood flow is the most critical aspect of surviving sudden cardiac arrest. Compressing a person’s chest keeps oxygen flowing to sustain the brain and prevent death. There is some evidence that taking the time to do rescue breathing interrupts the blood flow unnecessarily.
The application of CPR and an AED is straightforward. A 2011 study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes shows just watching an instructional video increases the odds that you will attempt CPR in an emergency.
Effective CPR can triple a victim’s chances of survival, but it doesn’t always work. People who receive this help can still die. Providing it improves the odds, however. Today, only 32 percent of people who go into sudden cardiac arrest get bystander CPR. Less than 8 percent of victims survive the trip to the hospital. CPR offers the best chance of survival for those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest. Without it, this person will most certainly die.
Four out of five cardiac arrests happen at home, so statistically speaking, the person you save by knowing CPR will probably be a family member. Isn’t it worth the time it takes to learn the basic techniques of cardiopulmonary resuscitation?
Jay Woith is the founder of Saving Chicago CPR. He and his team focus on providing safety training to both healthcare workers and individuals looking for their safety certifications.