Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Automated external defibrillators (AEDs, AED Machines, etc.) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) are used in giving first aid to a person experiencing sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). With sudden cardiac arrest the victim suddenly collapses, losing consciousness, ceasing to breathe, and losing their heartbeat. SCA can happen to any person at any time and is a life-threatening event.
Note that there is a difference between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack, which involves restriction or blockage of blood flow to the heart and can leave the victim weakened and in pain, but still fully conscious and functional. SCA is a heart malfunction in which the heart stops beating its normal rhythm and blood stops flowing through the body. It quickly leads to harm of the internal organs, including brain damage. Lay rescuers, as well as professionals, can give immediate first aid to keep blood flowing: 1) begin CPR, and 2) restart the heart using an AED machine. These actions can save lives!
Chain of Survival
Lay rescuers who are learning how to respond to various emergencies involving sudden collapse of the victim must learn the out-of-hospital “chain of survival” , an ordered and linked set of actions to be taken in starting emergency cardiac care, according to the American Heart Association. Knowing this process is crucial to saving someone’s life should they fall victim to cardiac arrest.
Also used by the American Red Cross, the Chain of Survival includes first aid training in three essential skill areas for saving a person’s life:
- Recognizing SCA,
- Giving CPR
- Using an AED. A first responder ready to apply these skill can make the difference between life and death!
Essential rescue skills of the Chain of Survival:
- First skill-(steps 1 and 2), Recognize Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Determine whether or not someone has simply fainted, is experiencing a heart attack, or is in full cardiac arrest, etc. If the victim’s condition warrants it, call 911!
- Second skill-(step 3), Start CPR: If the victim is unconscious, there is no normal breathing, and the person’s heart has stopped beating, begin giving chest compressions and breaths!
- Third skill-(step 4), Deploying an AED: Obtain and deploy an AED. Follow the instructions given by the AED, administering sh0ck(s) manually or allowing the AED to give them, (again, only as indicated by the AED!)
Functions of AED vs CPR
In looking at these Chain of Survival skills, it can be seen that once a sudden cardiac arrest is identified, it is crucial to understand not only the methods, but also the functions, of giving Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (chest compressions plus rescue breaths) and deploying an AED machine (automated external defibrillator). While there is a major difference between the two, CPR and AED work hand in hand in treating sudden cardiac arrests.
CPR stands alone in its function of keeping a person fallen victim to SCA from dying within minutes. Once the first steps of identifying SCA and calling 911 are taken, giving CPR chest compressions and rescue breathing keep oxygenated blood flowing to a person’s vital organs, preventing onset of death to those vital organs, and most importantly, averting brain damage. It also keeps a person’s heart charged with blood, and thus more able to respond to an electric shock from an AED by restarting its own normal heart rhythm.
Automated External Defibrillators
As stated above, AED defibrillators (apart from other advanced treatments available only to trained professionals) stand alone in that they can actually restart a heart. Rarely does a heart rhythm return in cases where a person’s life or death depend on CPR alone. Like CPR, using an AED is a core step in the process of saving someone’s life using the Chain of Survival process.
However, the rescuer should never stop performing CPR and leave a person to search for an AED! While the first-aider should call for an AED if yet another person is available to go find a machine, it is most important to stay with the suffering person, continuing to perform CPR until an ambulance arrives and the EMT team can take over.
Finding an AED
AEDs are readily available in many public places, sporting venues, etc. Whether by another person or an EMT, When an AED is brought to the scene, it should be deployed immediately and the instructions it gives followed carefully. Many of today’s AED defibrillators also include real-time CPR guidance, giving detailed information to the first aider regarding depth and rate of chest compressions!
The sooner the AED is put to use, the better. Start the machine and make it fully ready for attachment to the person’s chest; stop compressions and breaths momentarily and place the shock pads as indicated by the AED. A person’s chances of recovery increase dramatically, moment by moment, with rapid defibrillation–earliest possible application of a restorative shock. This is one situation in which “wait for the EMT’s” is not good advice.
CPR and AED Together
CPR and AED training are topmost in making everyday citizens capable of saving the lives of those who might experience sudden cardiac arrest. Don’t be afraid to use an AED or apply CPR in an emergency! An AED analyzes heart function by itself before it ever proceeds with treatment via a shock command (or the shock itself). Lay rescuers can be confident in immediately making the effort to save a person whose life would otherwise likely be lost!
AED & CPR Training
There is little doubt that we all benefit greatly when more and more individuals, lay citizens or health professionals, have CPR and AED training. Many have had at least one course which included CPR training, but remember, using an AED stands alongside CPR in making an SCA rescue. Knowing both of these skills is important to all of us.
A full range of classes from beginning first aid to professional level training are made available by the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association, including online only offerings. In addition, many reliable vendors, such as Heartsmart, offer training courses and equipment to the public.
Be sure to choose courses carefully, and make sure that you will be trained fully in skills of recognizing SCA, as well as CPR and AED. Walk from first step to last through the skills needed for quality first aid.