This article will address if you should perform CPR on a heart attack victim. The difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest will also be explained, and the warning signs of a heart attack will be described to help you recognize and help the victims of a heart attack.
If you’ve ever wondered, “Can you do CPR on a heart attack victim?” you will find the answer in the text below. You will also find information on how to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, as well as advice on what to do when someone is experiencing a heart attack in front of you, so even if you don’t have formal medical training, you can react accordingly. Even more so if you have a CPR certification.
CPR for Heart Attacks vs. Cardiac Arrest
Heart attack and cardiac arrest are often used synonymously – this is a common mistake among people with no medical background. However, they are quite different; we are going to outline the disparities and teach you how to separate one from the other. We’ll also learn whether or not you should perform CPR on a heart attack victim.
In the sections below, we define heart attack and cardiac arrest, pointing out they are two distinct medical conditions and highlight the key differences between the two.
A myocardial infarction, also known as a heart attack, happens when blood circulation to the heart is interrupted. Heart attacks occur when a blocked artery fails to deliver oxygen-infused blood to the heart; when the heart’s oxygenation is low, the heart muscle starts to die and lose its function, which may result in cardiac arrest.
Artery blockage is caused by built-up plaque on the artery walls, a condition known as atherosclerosis. The plaque doesn’t allow blood to go through the artery and reach the heart muscle.
Blocked arteries can also be a symptom of coronary artery disease, which may develop over the course of several decades and eventually manifest itself as angina or, in more severe cases, myocardial infarction.
When cardiac arrest occurs, the heart stops beating, indicating that the heart’s electrical system has stopped working. Arrhythmia, or an irregular heartbeat, is often the underlying cause of cardiac arrests, particularly the arrhythmia known as ventricular fibrillation, the most dangerous heart rhythm.
Unlike heart attacks, cardiac arrests result in a complete loss of heart function, as well as loss of breathing and consciousness. When this happens, the heart cannot pump any blood and deliver it to the rest of the body, which can result in death if CPR is not administered within a few minutes. Performing CPR within minutes of the arrest can double or triple a person’s chances of survival.
How to Recognize a Heart Attack?
Now that you know the main differences between a heart and a cardiac arrest, you can understand that the heart is still beating when a person experiences a heart attack. If you want to be sure that you’re witnessing a heart attack, look out for the following warning signs:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Upper-body pain; pain in the back, neck, arms, or stomach
- Other symptoms: nausea, sweating, lightheadedness
Keep in mind that heart attack symptoms in women may be different and include more severe nausea and vomiting, and intense back or jaw pain. When you see a person experiencing any of these symptoms, react immediately; quick reactions are crucial with heart attacks.
Can You Do CPR on a Heart Attack Victim?
Once you are sure you’re witnessing a heart attack, you want to know whether you should start performing CPR as soon as you notice the first signs whether you have a CPR certification or not.. However, a heart attack in itself does not call for CPR unless it results in cardiac arrest. Technically, you could provide CPR, but it’s not necessary and not advisable.
If the person is conscious, breathing independently, and their heartbeat is still steady, albeit slow, you should not perform CPR. Call 911 and wait for the emergency response team. Stay next to the person and monitor their condition for signs of deterioration. Be prepared to give CPR if the person goes into cardiac arrest.
Heart Attack Resulting With Cardiac Arrest: Course of Action
If the person stops breathing and you cannot find a pulse, you should immediately call 911 and start with chest compressions. Rescue breathing is not necessary when administering CPR in cardiac arrests, as the person’s blood has enough oxygen stored to keep the rest of the body alive. You should focus on restoring heart function and blood circulation, as this is much more critical than the lack of oxygen.
Continue giving CPR until someone arrives with an AED (Automated External Defibrillator), and you, or a trained person, are able to give an electrical shock to the heart. This is known as defibrillation, and it restores the heart rhythm back to normal. These devices can be used by bystanders, and they increase the survival rate to 67%, as opposed to the 43% survival rate, which happens if you’re waiting on a medical intervention.
Once the response team arrives to transport the patient to the hospital, you can stop the compressions and let them take over. The optimal response time of emergency services in cases of cardiac arrest is 6.2 minutes, but by providing help, you can prolong the threshold to 7.2 minutes and increase the chances of survival, but also lower the risk of brain damage.
When to Use CPR When Someone Has a Heart Attack?
Witnessing someone having a heart attack is a stressful and confusing situation. However, there are a few steps that you can follow that can ensure you help save someone’s life:
- Call 911 – Before you do anything else, call emergency services or have someone nearby do it. This way, you can focus on the person before you while knowing that professional help is on the way.
- Administer medicine – If the person is conscious and can speak, ask them whether they have been prescribed nitroglycerin. If so, find the medication and administer it in a prescribed way. Chewing on aspirin can also help, but make sure the person does not have an allergy before you give them the medicine.
- Monitor the person and make sure they stay calm – Don’t allow the person to move or exert themselves physically in any way until the arrival of emergency services. This will prevent further damage.
- Start CPR if indicated – Always be prepared to give CPR. In case the person goes into cardiac arrest, you’ll need to start administering CPR until the medical team takes over.
Following these steps is essential when helping a heart attack victim. The most important thing that you can do in this situation is to stay calm and remember what you need to do.
What We Learned About CPR and Heart Attacks
Heart attacks are not, in and by themselves, an indication to administer CPR. The best way you can help heart attack victims is by learning to recognize the symptoms, calling 911, and monitoring their condition.
In case the person goes into cardiac arrest, i.e., their heart function stops altogether, that is when you should start CPR. Give chest compressions until the emergency services arrive or until you can use an AED device.
Note that, unlike popular opinion, you don’t need to use rescue breaths in some cases of sudden cardiac arrest, as the uncirculated oxygen is better to be processed through compressions-only CPR. This can vary from case to case, so make sure you assess the situation – distinguishing between a heart attack and a cardiac arrest can be life-saving! To be as prepared as possible we highly recommend you take a CPR class.