What is cardiac arrest?

A cardiac arrest happens when your heart stops pumping blood around your body. If someone has suddenly collapsed, is not breathing normally and is unresponsive, they are in cardiac arrest.

The most common cause of a cardiac arrest is a life threatening abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation (VF). Ventricular fibrillation happens when the electrical activity of your heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops pumping and quivers or ‘fibrillates’ instead. There are various causes of VF. These can be problems with your heart, or other causes.

Is a heart attack the same as cardiac arrest?

In short no. Most heart attacks are caused by coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease (CHD) is when your coronary arteries (the arteries that supply your heart muscle with oxygen-rich blood) become narrowed by a gradual build-up of fatty material within their walls.

If a piece of this fatty material (atheroma) breaks off it may cause a blood clot (blockage) to form. If it blocks your coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygen-rich blood to your heart muscle, this is a heart attack. You might also hear a heart attack called acute coronary syndrome, myocardial infarction (MI) or coronary thrombosis.

Other rarer causes of a heart attack include spontaneous coronary artery dissection (SCAD) where one or more of the coronary arteries tear.

A heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest.

What is a defibrillator?

A defibrillator is an electrical device, designed to be used by an untrained person, that provides a shock to the heart when there is a life-threatening arrhythmia present. The arrhythmia that we worry about is called ventricular fibrillation. This is a very rapid erratic beating of the heart. A defibrillator provides a shock that basically shocks the heart to stop so that it can start rhythmically contracting again.

Why do we need Community Public Access Defibrillators?

Northumberland is home to over 315,000 individuals and this figure is significantly increased by tourists who visit the county. With 97% of the county classed as rural and the backdrop of increasing financial pressures on central and local government the NHS simply does not have the resources to put enough ambulances and paramedics on the road to be able to reach all parts of the county within the few minutes that cardiac arrest casualties need attention within in order to have a chance of survival.

Does CPR help?

Whilst a defibrillator is designed to be used by the untrained we believe it is important that everyone knows how to perform CPR. The action of CPR alone in the event of a cardiac arrest is only likely to result in 5% of casualties surviving where it occurs out of a hospital environment. However, CPR is essential in that it takes over the role of the heart and ensures that body function is maintained so that when a defibrillator is utilitised and the paramedics arrive the casualty has the maximum chance of survival.

Can I harm someone performing CPR or using a defibrillator?

It is true that whilst performing CPR it is possible that you may break the ribs of the casualty but other than that a casualty in cardiac arrest is already technically dead and therefore anything you do to try and save their life is better than doing nothing at all. A defibrillator applied to a casualty will only deliver a shock to that individual if it senses the specific heart rhythms associated with cardiac arrest, if it does not see those rhythms then a shock cannot be delivered accidentially.

Can I be sued for performing CPR or using a defibrillator?

Highly unlikely as the casualty is to all intensive purposes ‘dead’ when you arrive. Using CPR with a cPAD will hopefully bring them back to life. No one will complain about that and no court is likely to back a claimant if you have acted in the best interests of the casualty. However, calling 999 and taking instructions from the ambulance service will automatically cover you anyway under their insurances.

The Social Action, Responsibility and Heroism Act was passed in February 2015 to protect those who step forward to help others which further cements the case that no-one who steps forward to help another in distress should ever be hindered in doing so by the fear of being sued for negligence.