Nicholas Yanku, Student RN, College of DuPage, wrote for Healthy Lombard that while working as a patient care technician on a cardiac telemetry unit, I often hear the words “code blue” paged over the intercom. For healthcare workers, performing the early interventions necessary to save the life of a cardiac arrest victim becomes second nature, but would the average person know what to do if someone collapsed in front of them?
Known as the “silent killer,” cardiac arrest can occur without warning. According to the American Heart Association (2020), 350,000 cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital setting. This is why as a community member; it is important to be able to recognize a cardiac arrest as an emergency and provide early the necessary interventions to save the victim’s life.
Nonrecognition commonly occurs in, out of hospital cardiac emergencies; often it is assumed that the individual has fainted or the collapse is due to an epileptic seizure so the interventions are not appropriated for the incident. When witness someone who collapses, it is important to look for the following signs:
- Consciousness: assess if the individual is unable to speak or respond to a question while in cardiac arrest; ask them if they are okay, as this helps to determine consciousness.
- Breathing: cardiac arrest victims may not be able to breath or may exhibit irregular, agonal breathing.
- Pulse: victims of cardiac arrest will not have a pulse since the heart is not able to pump blood through the body. The easiest place to check for a pulse is via the carotid artery. Pulse can be found by placing the index and middle finger on the side of the victim’s windpipe.
After recognizing the emergency as a cardiac arrest, it is important to know what to do next. Even without a cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) certification, hands-only CPR is recommended help improve circulation during a cardiac arrest.
- Yell for help: Let others around you know of the emergency, instruct someone to call emergency services and locate an automated-external defibrillator (AED).
- Begin CPR: Place the palm of your non-dominant hand on the back of your dominant hand and interlace your fingers. Place the heel of your hands just above the breastbone and begin chest compressions. Chest compressions should be given “hard and fast” according to the American Heart Association (2020). Ensure the chest completely recoils before exerting downward pressure. One thing to remember is that you may feel the victim’s ribs break from the force of the compressions. DO NOT STOP COMPRESSIONS as this is normal and indicates that the compressions are adequate.
- When an AED arrives, ask someone else to open it and follow the audio instructions for using it. AED’s are designed as easy to use; even without training.
According to Young Hearts for Life, an organization that provides screening to identify underlying heart disease, 89% of sudden cardiac arrest victims survive when early interventions are implemented.
In summary, recognizing the signs and symptoms of a cardiac arrest in a victim will help to provide early interventions and drastically improve survival rate. As a community member, consider enrolling in a basic life support class provided by your local fire department so you know what to do to potentially save someone’s life.
Heart Attack and Sudden Cardiac Arrest Differences. (n.d.). Retrieved October 30, 2020, from https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/heart-attack/about-heart-attacks/heart-attack-or-sudden-cardiac-arrest-how-are-they-different
Valenzuela, T. D., Roe, D. J., Cretin, S., Spaite, D. W., & Larsen, M. P. (1997). Estimating Effectiveness of Cardiac Arrest Interventions. Circulation, 96(10), 3308–3313. https://doi.org/10.1161/01.cir.96.10.3308
YH4L Junior Board. (2019). Sudden Cardiac Death – Is your school prepared by Dr. Joseph Marek [YouTube Video]. In YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xql0YJ-y2SM&feature=youtu.be