Plan for It: Cardiac Arrest & How to Respond

Cardiac arrest is a quickly occurring, life-threatening emergency. During cardiac arrest, the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. This causes irregular heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias. If the heart stops and you don’t act fast, it can lead to death. Here’s what you need to know about this condition to help you and the people around you during an emergency situation.

What Causes Cardiac Arrest?

A number of underlying heart conditions, medications, and drugs can cause cardiac arrest, including:

  • Thickened heart muscle
  • Scarring from a prior heart attack
  • Electrical abnormalities
  • Blood vessel abnormalities
  • Heart medications
  • Recreational drug use

Understanding the causes of cardiac arrest can help you quickly identify an emergency situation if the warning signs are present.

Recognize the Signs

Cardiac arrest happens fast and without warning. Signs include:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness. There is no response when you ask if she’s okay or tap on her shoulders
  • Abnormal breathing. There may be only gasps of air or no breathing at all

Respond Fast

If you suspect someone is going into cardiac arrest, here’s what you should do.

  1. Tap and shout. Check for a response. Tap her and shout, “Are you OK?” If she doesn’t move, speak, blink, or react, then she is not responding.
  2. Yell for help to call 911 and get an AED. Tell someone around you to call 911 and get an AED. If you are alone, dial 911 first and get an AED if available.
  3. Check for breathing. If the person is gasping or not breathing at all, give CPR.
  4. Give CPR: push hard and fast. Push down 2 inches on the center of the chest. Push fast and controlled at a rate of 100 to 120 pushes a minute, and let the chest resume a normal position after each push.
  5. Use an AED. Turn the AED on and start using it as soon as it arrives.
  6. Keep pushing. Keep giving CPR until she starts breathing or someone with more advanced training takes over.

Each year, EMS professionals treat more than 350,000 cases of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. The more you know about the condition, the more prepared you will be to handle an emergency cardiac arrest situation. Talk with your family about cardiac arrest warning signs and plan ahead. Find the closest St. Luke’s Health freestanding emergency center so you know where to go during an emergency.

AHA | About Cardiac Arrest
AHA | Understand Your Risk for Cardiac Arrest
AHA | Warning Signs and Emergency Treatment of Cardiac Arrest

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