The heart is said to arrest when it stops beating. Up to 30 per cent of people suffering from heart attacks experience a cardiac arrest within the first few days of their illness. In 50 per cent of cases the heart fibrillates and this disorganized rhythm is not compatible with the continuation of life. Unless a patient receives prompt treatment they die. Fortunately fibrillation is reversible through the application of electrical stimuli and appropriate drug therapy. A patient stays alive by Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR). Death does occur when CPR stops. The second abnormal cardiac rhythm that occurs with cardiac arrest is asystole. When asystole occurs the heart doesn’t even twitch. Asystole reverses with great difficulty and most victims die when the process of CPR stops.
Governments invest millions of dollars in the provision of Coronary Care Units (CCU) that protect heart attack victims from cardiac arrests. They rarely stop to ask whether people going into CCUs are better off than people staying at home. There is still no strong evidence that CCUs are better than having your heart attack at home. Perhaps people do not present to CCUs soon enough with their heart attacks. It is the first few hours that are critical in the management of cardiac arrests. Most occur within 3-6 hours of a heart attack and on balance getting to hospital takes the average Australian 12 hours.
Always remember that CPR keeps people with cardiac arrests alive indefinitely. Do not give up until told to stop by an attending medical practitioner. It is always amazing to see people regain consciousness when they are receiving effective CPR. If the procedure is stopped they lapse into unconsciousness again and turn blue.