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Fast Facts on Cardiac Arrest From the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association urges the public to be prepared for cardiac emergencies:

  • Know the warning signs of cardiac arrest. During cardiac arrest a victim loses consciousness, stops normal breathing and loses pulse and blood pressure. They may suddenly collapse.
  • Call 9-1-1 immediately to access the emergency medical system if you see any cardiac arrest warning signs.
  • Give cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) to help keep the cardiac arrest victim alive until emergency help arrives.
  • If you don’t know CPR or haven’t been trained, call 9-1-1 and push hard and fast on the center of the chest until help arrives.

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. It’s not the same as a heart attack. Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when electrical impulses in the heart become rapid or chaotic, which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. A heart attack may cause cardiac arrest.

Sudden death (also called sudden cardiac death) occurs within minutes after symptoms appear.

What causes cardiac arrest?

The most common reason for patients to die suddenly from cardiac arrest is heart disease.

Other factors besides heart disease and heart attack can cause cardiac arrest. They include respiratory arrest, electrocution, drowning, choking and trauma.

Cardiac arrest can also occur without any known cause.

Can cardiac arrest be reversed?

Brain death and permanent death start to occur in just 4 to 6 minutes after cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest can be reversed if it's treated within a few minutes with an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. This process is called defibrillation.

A victim's chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation. Few attempts at resuscitation succeed after 10 minutes.

How many people survive cardiac arrest?

Each year, EMS treats nearly 300,000 people who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospital. More than 92 percent of cardiac arrest victims don’t survive to be discharged from the hospital. In cities where defibrillation is provided within 5 to 7 minutes, the survival rate is as high as 30–45 percent.

What can be done to increase the survival rate?

Early CPR and rapid defibrillationcombined with early advanced care can result in high long-term survival rates for witnessed cardiac arrest.

If bystander CPR was initiated more consistently, if AEDs were more widely available, and if every community could achieve a 20 percent cardiac arrest survival rate, an estimated 40,000 more lives could be saved each year.