Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in Australia with a survival rate of between 2%-5%. 95% of sudden cardiac arrest victims will die before they get to hospital and so your defibrillator may be the element that saves someone’s life.
The reason behind the importance of a defibrillator can be explained by the cause of the symptoms of a sudden cardiac arrest. A sudden cardiac arrest presents as:
- No Breathing
- No Pulse
These symptoms are caused by the failure of the heart to beat. The heart generally pumps the blood around the body, which provides the vital organs with oxygen, the most vital of these organs being the brain. If the heart stops beating the body will shut down, and irreversible damage will be done to the brain and other organs if there is no intervention, followed by death. Errors in the heart’s electrical system will cause arrhythmias (the heart to beat to slow, too fast or irregularly) which can cause the heart to stop. Without oxygen the brain will itself go into brain arrest, totally shutting down and then incurring irreversible brain damage within 4-6 minutes.
Sudden cardiac arrest can impact anyone of any age. In fact, there are 3-4 sudden cardiac deaths each week in Australians classified in the 1-35 year age group. A lot of the time there is no prior warning apart from the immediate symptoms, so no time to prepare or ensure that treatment will be available.
This is why there is a great push in Australia for the recognition of this danger and preparedness for such an attack. The greatest chance of victim survival is when CPR and then defibrillation are administered almost immediately after an attack. In fact there is evidence that suggests defibrillator intervention in the first minute after collapse can increase the chance of survival by as much as 70%!
A defibrillator is a machine that reads the heart’s beat and applies appropriate electrical impulses to the body to interrupt the irregular (or lack of) rhythm. This allows the heart to ‘adjust’ and return to a normal rhythm. As soon as this happens, the oxygen will begin to flow around the body again. Ambulance response times are estimated to be between 10-12 minutes in Australia, within which time severe irreversible damage and death are likely to occur, so the rapid response from bystanders is essential to achieving a positive outcome in the face of a sudden cardiac arrest. These units are made to be simple and safe to use, in fact you cannot harm anyone by using a defibrillator. More than 80% of sudden cardiac arrests occur in public places or homes, where access to an defibrillator that anyone can use will be the key to survival.