CPR is one of the most important skills you can learn to save a life. According to the American Heart Association, performing CPR doubles or even triples a person’s chance of survival in sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). In the United States, only 32% of SCA victims receive CPR by a bystander if outside a hospital. Consequently, knowing CPR can help prevent an unnecessary death from cardiac arrest.
Most people have been exposed to CPR while watching movies or TV shows; however, many are intimidated to actually try it in an emergency situation for fear of making someone worse. Here is something for you to remember: you cannot make a person who would otherwise be dead “more dead.” It is much better to do something, even if your technique is flawed, than to do nothing, and forever wonder if your assistance would have made a difference.
There are many people, some with CPR training, who do not understand what CPR actually is or why it can help.
So, what is CPR?
- CPR stands for Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation, or in layman’s terms:
- Cardio = Heart
- Pulmonary = Lungs
- Resuscitation = Revival or ‘bring back from apparent death’
CPR is a cycle of chest compressions and rescue breaths to manually pump oxygenated blood throughout the body.
And why is oxygen so important for my body? Because the cells in your body depend on oxygen to function. Imagine that oxygen is like fuel for your car. Without oxygen, your body simply will not run. Your lungs are responsible for breathing in oxygen to enter the bloodstream. This oxygen-rich blood needs to travel all around the body, and this is where your heart comes in. The heart serves as a pump, using electrical impulses to push blood through a network of blood vessels delivering oxygen to the tissues and organs of the body. If cells do not have oxygen, they start to die and serious damage to vital organs can happen within minutes. If the heart stops functioning, blood stops flowing to the brain, and a person will collapse and be considered in Sudden Cardiac Arrest.
Some common examples of what can cause Sudden Cardiac Arrest:
- Heart Disease
- Heart Attack
- Abnormal heart rhythm (most commonly Ventricular/Atrial Fibrillation)
- Sudden blow to the chest from a car accident or other injury
- Drug overdose
- Electric Shock
Quick tip: A heart attack is not the same thing as sudden cardiac arrest. A heart attack is when the heart’s own blood supply is blocked. This can lead to sudden cardiac arrest where the heart starts to beat erratically or stops beating altogether.
If a person is in sudden cardiac arrest, they are in the worst possible state of health, and are considered to have clinically died. This is where “Resuscitation” becomes important.
Imagine that your heart and lungs normally run on ‘auto pilot’: you breathe and your heart pumps without you having to think about it. During sudden cardiac arrest, this stops, and the only way to get oxygen to vital organs is for someone else to pump your heart manually. CPR is like switching to manual controls: the rescuer’s breaths provide oxygen and their chest compressions pump oxygenated blood throughout your body. The rescuer is artificially breathing and pumping blood for you. If they stop, your blood supply stops, and oxygen doesn’t reach your brain. CPR is able to circulate approximately 20-40% of normal circulation, giving that person extra time to receive emergency medical care.
Unlike the movies, it is not likely that a person’s heart will resume beating normally with CPR alone. This is why it is so important to contact emergency medical services to get the patient to an emergency room as soon as possible. Emergency Rooms are equipped with the necessary medications, equipment, and trained professionals to regain a patient’s normal heart rhythm, or back to ‘auto pilot’ mode.
Quick Tip: Make sure you know the number for emergency medical services in your area: in Thailand, that number is 1669. It is also a good idea to program the Emergency Room Numbers for the hospitals near your home and workplace into your phone. Bumrungrad International Hospital’s 24 hour Emergency Room contact is +66 2011 5222.
If there is an AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) available, use it as soon as possible. It is significantly more effective than CPR to restore normal rhythm. Your heart uses electrical impulses to create contractions; however, during cardiac arrest, the heart is often in fibrillation, which means that it is beating erratically and inefficiently. A defibrillator sends a shock to the heart, stunning or stopping it momentarily, so that it can hopefully resume its normal rhythm.
AEDs are simple to use and designed to be intuitive. The rescuer will need to apply the pads as pictured to the person’s bare chest and may need to press a button to deliver the shock. Some AEDs will deliver a shock automatically and some even give instructions on how to perform CPR in between shocks. The most important thing is not to touch the patient while the shock is being delivered. AEDs will not give a shock to someone who does not need it.
We hope this article has helped explain why CPR helps to save lives. If you have any questions you can add a comment in the form below. If you would like to learn how CPR actually is performed you can read our next article How to perform CPR available on the Bumrungrad HealthPoint blog.
By Laurie Coyler –Charusorn, Emergency First Response Instructor and Business Unit Director, and Dr. Preecha Laohakunakorn, Pediatric Cardiologist at the Children Center, Bumrungrad Hospital