Do you know the difference between a sudden cardiac arrest and a heart attack? This month we spoke to Motor Caravanner magazine about how to tell the difference – and then how to react to them both.
The simple fact is, AEDs are vitally important in saving the life of someone who experiences a sudden cardiac arrest. And it’s best if you don’t have to wait for an ambulance to turn up with one – every minute you wait to use one drastically lessens the patient’s chance of survival.
We’re passionate about educating New Zealanders about AEDs (defibrillators) because we know how many lives we lose to cardiac arrests a year. The more AEDs there are out there, the better chance there is of saving lives.
Thanks to Motor Caravanner for helping us to spread the word. Read the full article below.
You’ve parked up at a stunning, remote spot and are outside taking in the view and the serenity, coffee in hand, when suddenly your partner keels over. Out of phone range, no access to the internet and your last first aid lesson a distant memory, you could rightly panic. Is it a heart attack or a cardiac arrest? How can you tell either way? And what should you do to help them?
We spoke to Mike Mander, an EMT and volunteer firefighter of almost 20 years, to get advice on what to do in this situation.
Mike’s time in the fire service opened his eyes to how common sudden cardiac arrests are (12 a day in NZ, outside of hospital) and how important defibrillators are in improving your chances of success – use one before the ambo arrives and you’ve doubled the patient’s chances of survival. Less than 1% of people are successfully resuscitated using CPR alone. Of those 12 sudden cardiac arrests (SCAs) a day, a whopping 90% are fatal – three times greater than the national road toll.
As a result, Mike and wife Helen started Heart Saver, a company that sells and maintains AEDs (automated external defibrillators) and offers customized first aid courses around NZ.
His advice here could be life saving. Rip out this article and keep it in your glovebox, should such a situation occur.
* What is the difference between a heart attack and a sudden cardiac arrest?
If you think of your heart as a house, a SCA would be a problem with the electricity while a heart attack would be a problem with the plumbing. Your electricity obviously has a huge effect on the way everything in your house runs (or doesn’t run), whereas an isolated blockage in your plumbing may not cause so much damage.
A heart attack is when a blockage in a blood vessel interrupts the flow of blood to the heart, causing the heart muscle to die. SCA is when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating – stopping blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Not to bring the mood of this article down, but SCA usually causes death if it’s not treated within minutes. The scary thing? Anyone can suffer a sudden cardiac arrest without warning – even the most fit, healthy person.
* Ok, let’s talk heart attacks. What are the symptoms and warning signs?
Some heart attacks are sudden but most start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. It might be a heartburn type burn or the chest pain we often see unfolding on TV dramas. I’ll often come across people who have been uncomfortable but didn’t understand why, who have then waited too long before getting help. Some people have no warning pains whatsoever.
The pain of a heart attack may feel like squeezing, pressing, tightness, fullness or pain. Initially it might come and go. You might feel it in one or both arms (more commonly the left) and it may go into your jaw, stomach, neck, back and abdomen.
You may also feel faint, sick, sweaty, short of breath and even vomit.
* What about a SCA?
SCAs are immediate and can be dramatic to witness. You’ll see a sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing and a loss of consciousness.
Occasionally there will be signs and symptoms before a SCA – maybe fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations or vomiting – but SCA often occurs with no warning. With a SCA, everything is time critical. The chances of survival decrease 7-10% with each minute.
Scary stat: The onset of brain impairment can begin after only 4 minutes following a SCA.
* Who is at risk of a heart attack?
All the usual suspects. Men 45+ and women 55+ are more likely to suffer a heart attack. Smoking increases the risk (female smokers are three times more likely to have a heart attack than non smokers), as does high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, family history of heart attack, obesity, stress, and illegal drug use.
* What about a cardiac arrest?
Scarily, sudden cardiac arrest can affect anyone of any age, background and fitness level – it does not discriminate and gives no warning when it will strike.
* Tell us, step by step, what a bystander should do when they see someone suffering from a heart attack or SCA.
There’s one basic reason why you need to discern if someone is having a heart attack or a SCA – because if it is a SCA, an AED is vital in treatment to restart the heart.
- First check if they’re responsive – ask if they’re ok.
- Send for help or call 111.
- Open their airway by tilting their head and lifting their chin.
- Check their breathing – is it normal? If they are breathing, put them in recovery position and ensure their breathing isn’t obstructed. If they aren’t breathing normally, begin CPR to buy you time until you can use an AED.
- Full details of CPR on facing page (sub: or wherever it is you put it J).
- Continue CPR until: an AED arrives, is switched on and the electrodes are applied; emergency help takes over; you can no longer continue; you are at risk or the patient starts to breath by themselves.
- When you have an AED to hand and it’s charged up and electrodes are on, use it to restart the heart.
- Follow the voice instructions provided by the AED. They are designed to provide simple, clear instructions guiding you through the rescue process. Deliver the shock if advised by the device then immediately begin CPR starting with chest compressions, or give chest compressions only, for about two minutes.
- Using the AED, check the person’s heart rhythm. If necessary, the AED will administer another shock. If the AED detects the heart is beating again, it won’t administer shocks.
- Repeat this cycle until the person recovers consciousness or tries to resist you from giving CPR or until emergency personnel take over.
* HOW TO PERFORM CPR
This is made up of chest compressions and rescue breaths – remember, 30:2, no matter who.
- Push hard and fast on the person’s chest, to 1/3 of the depth of their chest, to really massage that heart massage.
- To keep your compressions in rhythm, think of the beat to ‘Stayin’ Alive’ or ‘Row, row, row your boat’ – both of these songs have 100 beats/minute.
- If you’ve been trained in CPR, check the person’s airway and deliver 2 rescue breaths after every 30 compressions – remember 30:2. If you haven’t been trained, just continue chest compressions.
- Allow the chest to rise completely between compressions.
- Keep doing this until an AED is available or emergency personnel arrive.
* What first aid kit or equipment do you suggest a motor-caravanner have on hand that would be handy in an emergency?
A well-stocked first aid kit is a must. We can email you a comprehensive list of what should be in your kit: email Helen@heartsaver.co.nz. We’d obviously also recommend an AED. Many of our customers who are NZMCA members have purchased AEDs not so much for themselves, but with the aim of being able to assist others if required. The majority of campgrounds and locations frequented by motor caravanners have no AED on site, are often remote, and take a long time for emergency assistance to reach – by which time it’s often too late.