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What Is Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is unpredictable, often striking people who have had no previous symptoms. It can happen anytime, anywhere, to anyone.


SCA is a leading cause of death in America, killing more than 330,000 people per year (1).


When the electrical impulses that trigger the rhythmic beating of the heart are disrupted, an abnormal, chaotic, quivering heart rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation results. Ventricular fibrillation is a leading cause of SCA and causes the heart’s contractions to become ineffective and the forward flow of oxygenated blood to the brain and lungs stops.


During Sudden Cardiac Arrest, the patient will lose consciousness and stop breathing. If a normal rhythm is not restored with a few minutes, death will certainly occur.


Bystanders who recognize a cardiac arrest, contact Emergency Medical Services (911), provide compression only CPR, and use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) if one is available, can significantly increase the chance of the patient’s survival.


1 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics – 2006 Update, A report from the American Statistics Committee and Stroke Statistics Subcommittee; Thom et al.; 2006; Circulation; 85-151


What about preventing and planning for SCA?


Because Sudden Cardiac Arrest can occur without warning, prevention can play a large role in survival. Be sure to have regular checkups, be screened for heart disease, and live a heart-healthy lifestyle:


    • Don’t smoke.
    • Eat a balanced, nutritious diet.
    • Embrace physical activity.
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What is Compression Only CPR?

For sudden cardiac arrest, recent studies1-2 have established the use of compression-only CPR as an effective alternative to conventional CPR, which combines chest compressions with rescue breaths (also known as “ventilations”). The immediate recognition of the emergency, activation of the EMS system by calling 911, and delivery of continuous chest compressions for a witnessed, sudden collapse of an adult could significantly increase the chance of survival.


By eliminating the apprehension associated with performing rescue breaths, compression-only CPR may encourage more bystanders to take immediate action and attempt CPR when an adult collapse is witnessed.

It is important to understand that there are cases of cardiac arrest that could benefit from conventional CPR. This includes events that are not witnessed, arrests in children, and arrests caused by non-cardiac–related problems such as drowning or drug overdose. However, if a rescuer is not trained in conventional CPR, or is unable to provide conventional CPR (including rescue breaths), the bystander should give continuous, uninterrupted chest compressions until help arrives.


By eliminating the apprehension associated with performing rescue breaths, compression-only CPR may encourage more bystanders to take immediate action and attempt CPR when an adult collapse is witnessed. A person who is unresponsive and not breathing or not breathing normally (only gasping), has little chance for survival without help. Nothing the bystander can do can harm the person further. Immediate delivery of chest compressions can only help.


Regardless of the approach, high-quality chest compressions, with as few interruptions as possible, help keep blood pumping throughout the body, increasing the chance of a successful resuscitation. Once started, CPR, either conventional or compression-only, needs to be provided with minimal interruption until another trained provider takes over; the person responds; an AED is ready for use; or EMS providers take over.


Training programs offered through the Health & Safety Institute follow scientific treatment recommendations and guidelines based on the current American Heart Association Guidelines for Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) and Emergency Cardiovascular Care (ECC).


1 "CPR with Chest Compression Alone or with Rescue Breathing". Rea, T.D., et al; July 29, 2010; N Engle J Med.

2 "Hands-Only (Compression-Only) Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation: A Call to Action for Bystander Response to Adults Who Experience Out-of-Hospital Sudden Cardiac Arrest". American Heart Association science advisory; March 31, 2008; Circulation.


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