CPR Explained

Lets get down to the basics. Understanding what is happening to the victim will help make CPR easier and make more sense.

Differences Between Heart Attack and Cardiac Arrest

Most people assume that when someone needs CPR they are having a Heart Attack. Not exactly! There is a difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack and it is important understand the difference.

Heart Attack

When you think of a heart attack, think of a “plumbing problem”. A heart attack occurs when there is a blockage in one or more of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries are the arteries provide oxygen rich blood to the heart muscle, these vessels wrap around the “outside of the heart”. A blockage can occur as a result of plaque or from a blood clot that has formed. When a heart attack occurs the body will usually let the person know, although symptoms can vary from slight to severe and sometimes present in different ways. Generally when someone is having a heart attack they are awake and able to breathe.

Common Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

  • Chest Pain (from slight to severe)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating
  • Jaw pain
  • Left arm pain
  • Sudden onset of fatigue, weakness, nausea, vomiting
  • Tooth pain

Things to know

  • If you or you think someone is having a heart attack call 911
  • Men will almost always deny any heart related issue
  • Women will sometimes have very vague symptoms
  • If the person takes heart medication and they are having difficulty, assist them
  • Try to keep the person relaxed and comfortable
  • Suggest that they take an aspirin (if available and they are not allergic)

Cardiac Arrest

Think of a cardiac arrest as a “electrical problem”. A cardiac arrest can occur as a result of a heart attack or suddenly due to various factors. Cardiac arrest is death. Each person has their own pacemaker (I know some people have artificial ones). Your hearts pacemaker is the conductor of your hearts orchestra and coordinates contraction of the heart in an organized and orderly fashion. Your heart produces electricity and sends electrical impulses telling everything when to fire. During the scenario of a heart attack induced cardiac arrest, a portion of the heart is starved of oxygen rich blood (caused by that clot or piece of plaque blocking one or more of the coronary vessels), the heart doesn’t like this and can get irritable.  The heart can then start throwing in extra beats. If the extra beat occurs at the wrong time it can send the heart into chaos (ventricular fibrillation). Ventricular Fibrillation is the condition that the heart usually starts out in during the cardiac arrest (not always, but most of the time). When you think of Ventricular Fibrillation imagine a bowl of jello being shaken, this is what the heart is typically doing. The heart still has electricity but it is just unorganized and chaotic. What does this person need? Quick CPR and a defibrillator.

What does CPR do?

CPR in general can buy the victim some time. Brain death can occur within 4-6 minutes without intervention. By performing CPR you are trying to keep oxygen rich blood to the brain. When properly performed, CPR simulates from 20% to 40% of normal circulation.   That is not enough to sustain life indefinitely, but will be sufficient to put off the start of cell death or biological death in the hopes that a defibrillator and advanced help arrive soon.   You should not expect CPR to restart a heart and have the victim pop back to life like is shown on TV.   Your job is to keep oxygenated blood flowing to vital organs (Brain and Heart) until advanced life support services arrive.

What does a Defibrillator or AED do?

Contrary to popular belief a Defibrillator does not restart the heart. No defibrillator does. A defibrillator actually stops or stuns the heart. Generally when someone goes in to cardiac arrest, they are in a condition called ventricular fibrillation (65%-85% of the time), where their heart is quivering ineffectively, their heart has electricity but it is unorganized and chaotic. Think of it like this: Your computer starts acting up and doing chaotic things, what would you do? Most people would  turn their computer off and turn it back on in hopes that when the computer restarts that it will work normally. Same general principal. Chances of survival during a cardiac arrest are directly tied to the amount of time it takes to deliver a shock to the victim.

What if CPR and an AED doesn’t work?

No matter what happens during CPR it is not your fault. There are approximately 15%-30% that will not survive no matter what you do. Many people are scared to even preform CPR in fears that they are going to “hurt” the person or “make them worse”. This is a normal fear but not a valid one. One thing that you should remember is that when someone needs CPR they are “dead”. It is difficult to make someone worse than dead. Anytime someone has to preform CPR it is important to try and relax (I know, easier said than done). I know that unsuccessful resuscitation can be emotional and hard to handle. However, not doing anything and wondering “what if?” is an even greater burden.

What can I do if I’m not trained?

Of course training is very important. However, if you are untrained there is something that you can do.  Recognize a problem. Call for help. If the person “looks dead”, press on the middle of their chest hard at least 2 inches in depth repeatedly at a rate of 100 per minute. This is called “Compression Only CPR” and is recommended by the American Heart Association for untrained rescuers.

About Northwest Health and Safety Inc.

Northwest Health and Safety Inc. is a leading provider of CPR and First Aid Training programs serving the Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon areas. Our quality CPR & First Aid classes are taught by the most experienced instructors in a fun, relaxed and informative way. Check our calendar for an upcoming class or if you have a group? Contact us and we can schedule a private CPR and First Aid Training for you at our location or yours. 360-737-8910.

*Do not take site information as medical advice. If you are experiencing a medical issue or condition seek medical attention immediately.