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Surviving a sudden cardiac arrest shouldn’t come down to chance

Dr. Carla Kriwet, Chief Executive Officer, Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions

Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death and a major health problem in the U.S. with more than 356,000 people suffering from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest each year[1]. Many people might assume that this shocking number includes heart attacks, but that isn’t the case. A major misconception is that heart attacks and SCA are one in the same. On the contrary, heart attacks and sudden cardiac arrest are different health episodes, and the treatment needed in each scenario is drastically different. A heart attack is a circulation problem when blood flow to heart is blocked, while a SCA is an electrical problem that needs immediate attention.

In the case of a SCA, without immediate treatment, death can occur within minutes after the person collapses, resulting in nine out of 10 victims of SCA dying[2]. Survival rates for SCA don’t have to be this dire. When bystanders intervene by giving CPR and using automated external defibrillators (AEDs), the survival rates triple. The frightening reality about SCA is it can happen to anyone, anywhere, at any time.

AEDs have come a long way in the past few decades, but despite this, the most important factor for SCA survival in 2016 often comes down to luck; luck being if a SCA victim has an episode near an AED and a bystander chooses to intervene with it, that victim has a greater chance of survival. The problem is, even though AEDs are widely available, many people are not aware of AEDs and don’t know they are designed for the layperson to use, so they may hesitate to intervene when someone is experiencing a SCA. 

Understanding SCA and AEDs

Since SCA is considered an electrical problem, CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) alone cannot save SCA victims. CPR by itself can only extend a victim’s life temporarily, giving the victim a small amount of extra time until an AED is available. When bystanders intervene by giving CPR and using AEDs, four out of 10 victims survive—tripling the survival rate[3]. Defibrillation is the only treatment option to restore a normal heart rhythm. In today’s health education classes, we need to teach students and faculty not only CPR, but how to use an AED.  It is a two-step process to save a life: CPR and an AED go hand-in-hand.

Even though AEDs were first created in the 1980s, there continues to be a lack of understanding surrounding these devices. Surprisingly, more than half of the U.S. population has never seen an AED up close. In the public’s perception, AEDs are often locked in metal boxes that are marked ‘for trained professionals only.’ On the contrary, AEDs are designed for the everyday hero and are intended to be used by a layperson, where the bystander is given clear instructions about how to restore the victim’s heart rhythm.

With lack of understanding, many people don’t feel confident enough to intervene or they worry they could do more damage than good. Most SCA victims will die within minutes if they are not treated immediately[4], so actions taken by bystanders can only help, and in fact, AEDs are designed so they will only deliver a shock if there is no heartbeat.

Since AEDs are designed for the layperson, training is not necessary to use it, but it is still important to provide people with background information on AEDs and success stories of ordinary people finding the confidence to save a life. With the launch of the awareness campaign, Philips finds that describing these experiences to everyday people will give them assurance and empower them to intervene.

Lead the way to save a life

 Today, only one-third of SCA victims receive CPR from bystanders, and only two percent are treated with AEDs before the paramedics arrive at the scene.[5] On average, the paramedics in the U.S. take within eight minutes to arrive on the scene of an emergency.[6] But for every minute that passes, the chances of survival decrease significantly. SCA victims are much more likely to survive with layperson intervention than if they wait for the paramedics to arrive.[7]

It’s time to stop leaving SCA survival up to chance. By driving greater awareness and understanding about AEDs, we can rely less on luck and more on the resources we have at our fingertips in order to save someone’s life.

[1] American Heart Association

[2] Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation

[3] Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation

[4] American Heart Association

[5] Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation

[6] NCBI

[7] Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association

AED, automated external defibrillator, Philips Patient Care and Monitoring Solutions, SCA, Sudden cardiac arrest