Australians are becoming more educated in the dangers of sudden cardiac arrest, however not enough is known about intervention and the causes behind sudden cardiac arrest to improve survival rates. This lethal irregularity in the heart’s rhythm is an indiscriminate killer that kills between 15,000-20,000 people per year, a number that could be significantly decreased by greater awareness of the danger of incidence and increased confidence in treatment.
As we all know, the body requires oxygen to function and that oxygen is provided to the major organs by the pumping of blood through the body by the heart. One of the most important organs to ‘feed’ with oxygen is the brain. It only accounts for 2% of the body’s weight but uses 20% of the oxygen in the blood. An average person's heart beats 80 times each minute, 4,800 times each hour and 115,200 times each day, but if this is prevented for even a minute, the vital oxygen supply to the brain is prevented (as well as the other organs) and sudden cardiac arrest occurs.
Sudden cardiac arrest can happen to anyone at anytime. There are various common and less common causes. Coronary heart disease accounts for 80% of sudden cardiac deaths, but variables such as drug use, trauma (drowning or immense blood loss) and underlying heart issues (arrhythmias) that have not previously been identified, can also cause the heat to stop beating correctly. It is estimated that 4 people under the age of 35 suffer a cardiac arrest each week.
The heart’s electrical system should keep the rhythm of the heart beat regular, however if this system malfunctions, the result can be a heartbeat that is too fast, too slow, or too irregular to push the blood around the body (arrhythmia). When the blood in the body stops moving, poisonous products of the body’s metabolism build up in all the cells and irreversible damage to the most delicate organ, the brain, begins between 4-6 minutes of collapse.
The symptoms of sudden cardiac arrest are:
- Sudden collapse
- Loss of consciousness
- No breathing normally
- No sign of life
Generally, after collapse of someone in any environment other than a medical facility, bystanders react with shock and it takes some time for action to begin. Unfortunately it is in the first moment of collapse and loss of breathing that are most critical in preventing damage to the victim due to cardiac arrest. In fact, if a measured shock is provided in the first minute of a lethal rhythm, it is estimated that there is 70% chance of survival!
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