The internet has been in an uproar over the unfortunate death of a 12 years old teenager last week. The child allegedly had a cardiac arrest during her school’s inter-house sports event in Lagos. Preliminary investigation gathered that after she collapsed, bystanders poured water on her in a bid to resuscitate her. Unfortunately, drenching someone in water has no benefit during a cardiac arrest.
First things first. Can you tell when someone is having a cardiac arrest?
How to recognize a cardiac arrest
You are probably witnessing a cardiac arrest when someone
- suddenly slumps or collapses
- becomes unconscious and unresponsive to their name (if you know it) or does not react when you forcefully tap or shake them
- stops breathing: no breathing sounds or chest movement
- has no pulse on the wrists or neck. It is preferable to check for carotid (neck) pulses by placing two fingers on either side of the neck.
When a person exhibits all these symptoms, they are most likely experiencing a cardiac arrest.
What causes cardiac arrest?
Cardiac = heart. Arrest = to stop
A cardiac arrest is a sudden cessation of heartbeat. There are electrical impulses naturally present in the heart, and these impulses keep the heart beating. When the coordination of the heart’s electrical impulse is disrupted, the heart may stop beating and therefore, arrest.
Although a heart attack may cause the heartbeat to cease, a cardiac arrest is different from a heart attack . Other causes of cardiac arrest include electrocution, respiratory problems (especially in young children), drowning and heart disease like cardiomyopathies.
It is important to note that cardiac arrest may happen at any age. Babies, children, teenagers and adults can have cardiac arrest.
What to do during a cardiac arrest
The single most important life-saving step for you to take when you witness a heart arrest is CPR.
CPR stands for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and it is important to know how to perform it because most cardiac arrests happen outside the hospital setting. According to the American Heart Association, CPR can result in a two or three-fold increase in survival rate after a cardiac arrest.
How to perform CPR
After someone collapses, assess for cardiac arrest by calling their name or trying to arouse them; checking for breathing and pulse. Once you suspect an arrest, do these:
- Remove any tight clothing e.g. neckties, tight blouses
- Place the person on a flat and firm surface, or the floor
- Shout for help. It’s better to have assistants during CPR. Ask someone to help look for an AED Machine (Automated External Defibrillator). Appoint another to call the nearest hospital to request an ambulance; or the state’s emergency service line. Appoint another person to control the crowd if it happens in public. Avoid pouring water on the victim.
- Kneel at the victim’s side
- Tilt the victim’s head backwards and slightly raise the chin up to open the airway
- Begin chest compressions by placing one hand in the middle of the chest, below the nipple line. Place your second hand over the first and interlock your fingers. Only the heel of your hand should be in the contact with the chest wall; raise your fingers and palm off the chest.
- Adjust your position so that your elbows are straight (not bent in any way), with your shoulders directly above your hands.
- Start pressing down on the chest. Use your body weight, not your shoulders. The chest compressions should be about 2 inches deep.
- Make 100 – 120 chest compressions in 1 minute. Make sure the chest recoils (rises back to its original position) before each subsequent compression.
- Pause after every 30 compressions and let an assistant give 2 mouth-to-mouth breaths. The ratio is 30 compressions to 2 breaths. If you are alone with the victim, skip the breath part and perform the ‘Hands only’ CPR where only chest compressions are given without breath.
- Use the AED if available. Follow the instructions written on the machine. If no AED is available, don’t stop the CPR while you confirm that medical help is on its way.
- Be careful not to push extremely hard, to avoid breaking a rib.
- Continue CPR until help arrives or until the victim begins to respond. If the victim starts breathing, let them lie quietly on their side until they can be safely transported to a hospital.
A Word from Healthfacts
A cardiac arrest can happen at any time and you could be someone’s only chance of survival. Always be prepared at all times. Don’t hesitate to render CPR out of fear, attempting is better than doing nothing.
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Take this Quiz: Test what you know about cardiac arrests
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