Staying Alive

Easy steps to stayin' alive

We all have the tools to save a life: just look at your hands. If you suspect someone might be experiencing a heart attack or cardiac arrest and you do not know CPR, chest compressions can help you preserve life until the emergency medical transport arrives.

If you suspect a cardiac arrest emergency, here are a few steps to keep in mind (most of these you will do automatically when faced with an emergency, but it is good to review them.)

1. Check for responsiveness. Tap the person's shoulder and use a loud voice to ask them if they are okay.

2. Whether or not the victim is conscious, if you suspect they may have a serious medical condition, dial 911. Ambulance care is crucial for heart attack victims. The ambulance not only ensures a quick ride to the hospital, but emergency medical service (EMS) professionals will also be able to start the patient's treatment and gather information for use at the hospital.

3. If the patient is conscious and not allergic, give them aspirin. Instruct them to chew or dissolve 162 to 325 milligrams of uncoated aspirin under his or her tongue. "Most heart attacks are precipitated by a blood clot in a coronary artery," said Thomas Tuttle, MD, an internal medicine physician with Ministry Medical Group in Stanley. "The aspirin has an anti-platelet effect that should keep further clots from forming."

4. If the victim is unconscious, open the airway. Tilt the person's head back and lift the chin. Put your ear to the victim's airway, making sure you can see their chest. Watch and listen for signs of breathing for no more than 10 seconds. Irregular gasps are not considered signs of breathing.

5. If the victim is not breathing, start chest compressions, even if you're not trained in CPR. Find the center of the chest. Just place one hand over the back of your other hand and lace your fingers. Push down hard with the heel of your hand compressing the chest at least two inches with each thrust. Push down fast at least 120 thrusts every minute.

For reference, use the 1970s disco hit "Stayin' Alive" to help you keep a strong, steady tempo of 120 beats per minute.

Hands-only CPR mimics the action of the heart and can give a person more time.

6. After 30 compressions, you can give two rescue breaths – if you are comfortable doing this – remember, you can do chest compressions without adding the breaths. Lift the chin and tilt the head back while pinching the victim's nose. Keep a sightline on the person's chest while blowing into the person's mouth for about one second. If the person's chest does not rise, try lifting the chin, tilting the head, and repeating the rescue breath. Find more information on CPR here.

IMPORTANT: Do not stop chest compressions until help arrives.

7. Use an AED, if available

Many public areas are now equipped with automated external defibrillators (AED), which can be used by anyone. AEDs are essentially foolproof if you follow the voice-guided instructions.

Just turn the AED on, and it will tell you what to do. Diagrams on the pads will show you where to place them on a person's chest. The machine will then detect the electrical activity of the person's heart. If the activity is abnormal and / or non-existent, the machine will auto-charge, and then ask you to push a button to deliver the shock. Do not touch the person while the AED is delivering the shock to the victim. The AED will also tell you when to resume CPR.

"When communities make a concerted effort to improve cardiac arrest survival rates, more and more people survive," said Michael D. Curtis, MD, emergency medicine physician on staff at Ministry Saint Michael's Hospital in Stevens Point. "Every community has to make the effort. One thing that each member of the community can do is learn CPR and learn how to use an AED."

Ministry Health Care provides American Red Cross certified courses that offer hands-on training and certification for adult CPR and AED use. Get more information here.

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