When someone collapses do you know what to do? There are many reasons why someone may collapse. Chief among those reasons are sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack. They are not the same thing. If you have training to distinguish the difference between sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack, you may have a chance to save someone's life. In any event, prompt response is crucial.
Cardiovascular Disease Is the Leading Cause of Death in the U.S.
The CDC reported that in 2016 cardiovascular disease continued to be the most common cause of death in the US. In that year, 635,260 people died of heart diseases, representing 23.1 percent of total deaths and surpassing that of cancers (21.8 percent) and all other causes of death including strokes, gun violence and automobile accidents.
The Differences Between Heart Attacks and Sudden Cardiac Arrest
According to this report by American Heart Association (AHA), in 2016 there were 363,452 deaths due to coronary heart disease and 366,494 deaths due to cardiac arrest. While both illnesses affect the heart, they are completely different.
This American Heart Association article explains the differences very well. Heart attacks are caused by blockages of circulation of blood to the heart muscle, while cardiac arrests are the result of a lack of electrical stimulation of the heart muscle.
This side-by-side comparison of cardiac arrest and heart attack presents the What Is, What Happens and What To Do for each event quite well.
Sudden Cardiac Arrest
A cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical signals that control the heart go wrong, causing the heart to vibrate or quiver, known as ventricular fibrillation. This stops blood circulation to the brain, lungs and other organs, causing the patient to collapse and stop breathing. Cardiac arrest usually occurs without warning, however, patients may experience shortness of breath, chest discomfort or palpitations immediately prior to the event.
Although cardiac arrest may affect anyone, people with heart disease are more susceptible. External causes of cardiac arrest can include electrocution, drowning, drug overdoses, a blow to the chest and severe bleeding. Symptoms of cardiac arrest include:
- Loss of consciousness
- No discernable pulse
- Patient not breathing
- A sudden collapse
A heart attack occurs when something stops the flow of blood to the heart. It's most commonly caused by plaque, a gradual build-up of cholesterol, calcium and fat in the arteries. This breaks away to form clots blocking the artery, depriving part of the heart of its blood supply. The blockage deprives that part of the heart its needed oxygen supply and, if left untreated, that portion of the heart muscle dies and the heart is permanently damaged.
Symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain, discomfort, pressure or tightness in the center of the chest
- Angina, a decrease in blood to the heart, caused by exertion.
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
Many people experience symptoms that gradually worsen, while others may have a sudden heart attack.
How You Can Help
Here are some things you can do to address the needs of a person who collapses in your presence.
- First and foremost, you and your staff need to be trained in administering cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR) with rescue breathing and cardiac compression. Training has to come first before the event happens and should also include use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
- Determine that the individual is not breathing and has no pulse.
- Call for help and contact the local emergency medical services (EMS) office.
- Administer CPR. Whether the collapse is due to a heart attack or cardiac arrest, if you cannot feel a pulse, administering CPR is the best first thing to do on the spot in either instance.
- Administer an electrical shock with an AED. When faced with an unexpected collapse you may not be able to distinguish between a heart attack and cardiac arrest. An electrical shock from an AED will only benefit a person suffering from cardiac arrest. It will not benefit a person suffering from a heart attack. Fortunately, AEDs are designed in such a way as to detect when a shock should and should not be administered.
- Continue with CPR and AED administration until there is a return of breathing and heartbeat, or until EMS staff arrive.
In order to do this, you must have an AED program in place with AEDs within easy access by staff trained in their proper use. You should also ensure that your AED and first aid programs are compliant with state and federal regulations by subscribing to our AED Management blog.
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