How we respond to a Cardiac Arrest

A Community First Responder treats a patient who has had a cardiac arrest

What is a cardiac arrest? 

A cardiac arrest occurs when someone’s heart stops beating. They will suddenly lose consciousness and will stop breathing or stop breathing normally. No blood will flow to the brain and other vital organs and without immediate action death will occur. 

It is often confused by the public and in the media with a heart attack but they are different. A heart attack where there is a sudden interruption to the blood supply to part of the heart muscle. It is likely to cause chest pain and without treatment will result in permanent damage to the heart. The heart is still sending blood around the body and the person remains conscious and is still breathing.  

Both are medical emergencies, and you should call 999, but a cardiac arrest is much more serious. 

What should you do if someone has a cardiac arrest? 

  • If a person is unconscious or is not breathing normally you need help
  • Call 999
  • Check for danger before approaching the person
  • Start Chest compressions – this is often called CPR. Find out how you can learn CPR.
  • Patients who are in cardiac arrest will often take occasional gasps – this is a sign of cardiac arrest and not them trying to breathe.
  • Our Call Handler will calmly talk you through performing CPR.
  • If there is a defibrillator (sometimes referred to as an AED, shock-box or heart starter) nearby the call handler will also let you know where it is. If you are not alone, the call handler will ask that other person to get the defibrillator. If you are on your own they will not ask you to leave the patient to get the defibrillator as you must continue to perform CPR to give the patient the best chance of survival.
  • If the defibrillator is brought to you please use the defibrillator. You cannot harm someone with the defibrillator, and you do not need training to use it. Find out more about using a defibrillator.
  • Do not stop CPR unless the patient shows obvious signs of life

How do we respond to a Cardiac Arrest? 

While our Call Handler is talking you through CPR and how to use the defibrillator, we will send our closest responders as a priority because it is a life-threatening call. 

What are your chances of surviving a Cardiac Arrest? 

The chances of survival from cardiac arrest is improving all the time. In 2015, 1 in 20 survived a cardiac arrest to hospital discharge.  As part of partnership with other agencies, an Out of Hospital Cardiac arrest Strategy was developed.  Due to this strategy, this survival rate is now 1 in 10 and continues to improve.