Top 12 Myths About Sudden Cardiac Arrest
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is a life-threatening emergency that occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Despite its prevalence, there are many common misconceptions about sudden cardiac arrest that can hinder our ability to respond effectively. So, for Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, let’s debunk the top 12 myths about sudden cardiac arrest to help raise awareness and increase the chance of survival.
1. Sudden cardiac arrest and heart attack are synonymous.
One of the most common myths for sudden cardiac arrest is that it’s the same thing as a heart attack. However, they are two different medical emergencies.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow to a part of the heart muscle is blocked. Although blood flow is restricted by the blockage, the heart will generally continue to beat, and the person will remain conscious and responsive.
Sudden cardiac arrest, on the other hand, happens when the normal electrical impulses in the heart cause it to beat too quickly, inefficiently, or in an unsynchronized manner. These abnormal heart rhythms cause the blood flow to the body, along with the oxygen it carries, to abruptly stop. A sudden cardiac arrest victim will often unexpectedly collapse. However, occasionally they’ll experience a short period of seizure activity as their brain stops receiving oxygen.
While both SCA and heart attack are serious medical emergencies, understanding the distinction is necessary for proper response and treatment.
2. Sudden cardiac arrest won’t happen to anyone I know.
Sudden cardiac arrest isn’t a rare occurrence. In fact, SCA is a leading cause of death in the United States and worldwide. According to the latest statistics published by the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Foundation:
- There are over 356,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests (OHCA) each year in the U.S.
- Nearly 90% of OHCA are fatal.
- Sudden cardiac arrest affects about 1,000 people a day.
Sudden cardiac arrest can strike at any time, meaning it could impact any number of people in your life, including loved ones, co-workers, or a stranger you just met.
3. I’m not trained, so there’s nothing I can do to help.
You don’t have to be CPR and AED certified to help someone. The most important thing you can do to ensure emergency services arrive as quickly as possible is to call 911. This simple step is crucial, but it’s often forgotten in the chaos of an emergency. So, at minimum, focus on getting professional help on the way by calling 911 immediately.
Beyond that, untrained bystanders can perform compression-only CPR (also called hands-only CPR) until someone can take over. Remember to push hard and to push fast when giving chest compressions.
4. Someone else is going to help.
The bystander effect is a phenomenon that occurs when other people are present, and bystanders become hesitant to step forward in an emergency. Some bystanders might assume that someone else is going to call 911 or jump into action. Others might mistakenly assume whatever is taking place isn’t an actual emergency because others aren’t acting either.
Don’t let this common myth for sudden cardiac arrest prevent you from helping. Taking quick, effective action can potentially save a life.
5. I’ll get sued if I try to help.
Many people fear legal action if they end up doing something wrong or unintentionally hurt someone during an emergency. However, all 50 states and the District of Columbia each have a Good Samaritan law in place to encourage people to help others in emergency situations without having to worry about being sued. You can typically find your state’s specific Good Samaritan law online.
6. You can predict when SCA will occur.
Sudden cardiac arrest happens suddenly, and often with little or no warnings signs. This is why it’s important to be prepared and knowledgeable about bystander CPR, including knowing how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED).
7. I’m healthy, so sudden cardiac arrest isn’t a concern.
Individuals with pre-existing heart conditions are at a higher risk of experiencing sudden cardiac arrest. However, SCA can strike anytime, anywhere, and to anyone – even those with seemingly healthy hearts.
Sudden cardiac arrest is often the first sign of a heart health problem. Additionally, other medical conditions, medicines, injuries (e.g., a hard blow to the chest), or a family history of heart problems can raise the risk of cardiac arrest.
8. SCA is only an “older adult problem”.
Sudden cardiac arrest affects people of all ages, including infants, children, and young people. That said, cardiac arrest in children is rare. When it does happen, it’s most commonly a result of asphyxia such as an airway obstruction, lung infection or disease, drowning, choking or shock.
While the risk of sudden cardiac arrest does increase with age, it’s important to recognize that age isn’t the sole determining factor.
9. CPR will be enough to save someone in SCA.
CPR is extremely important as an immediate treatment of suspected SCA. It can sustain life by maintaining blood flow and providing oxygen to the brain and other vital organs. But it won’t restart the heart.
The primary purpose of immediate CPR is to buy time until an AED can be used to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm. High-quality CPR along with early defibrillation with an AED can more than double the likelihood of person’s chances of survival.
10. Only trained medical professionals can use automated external defibrillators (AEDs).
Some people are intimidated by the thought of using an AED. But this lifesaving, portable device is specifically designed to be user-friendly, so that anyone can use it – regardless of their medical background or training.
AEDs have clear, step-by-step instructions via voice prompts and visual cues, making them simple and effective. This is why many workplaces, schools, and public places have an AED readily available for anyone to use in case of an emergency.
11. I might hurt someone by shocking them with an AED.
A person in cardiac arrest will not survive without being shocked by an AED quickly. But some bystanders might be hesitant to use an AED due to this common myth for sudden cardiac arrest: fear of hurting the victim.
Rest assured, AEDs are programmed to analyze the heart’s rhythm and deliver an electric shock only when necessary. If the AED determines that a shock isn’t advised, it will not allow you to deliver a shock even if you push the button accidentally. So, you won’t be able to shock someone who doesn’t need to be shocked.
12. Sudden cardiac arrest is always fatal.
While the statistics for SCA can be grim, bystanders can play a significant role in increasing survival rates through a combination of early CPR and early defibrillation. The key is being able to recognize signs of SCA, calling for help, starting CPR and using an AED as quickly as possible.
Learn how to respond to sudden cardiac arrest and other medical emergencies
Due to these and other various myths about sudden cardiac arrest, it’s often misunderstood. This is why CPR training is so important. The more bystanders who learn CPR and feel confident using an AED, the more lives we can save.
To take a CPR, AED and First Aid class, contact a Training Center near you.
If you want to be a part of building a safer and more informed public who is ready to act when it matters most, consider becoming an HSI authorized instructor or approved training center.