American Heart Association Updates CPR Guidelines

People should continue to jump in quickly to give CPR, using breaths if they’ve been trained in CPR and employing mobile technology to speed up the rescue of cardiac arrest victims, according to the American Heart Association’s updated CPR guidelines released in October.

The guidelines highlight how quick action, proper training, use of technology and coordinated efforts can increase survival from cardiac arrest, a leading cause of death in Hawaii and in the United States.  Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart suddenly stops, usually due to an electrical malfunction in the heart that causes an irregular heartbeat and disrupts blood flow through the body. Survival depends on immediate CPR and other actions starting with bystanders.

More than 326,000 people experience cardiac arrest outside of a hospital each year nationwide and about 90 percent of them die, often because bystanders don’t know how to start CPR or are afraid they’ll do something wrong. The 2015 guidelines say high-quality CPR training for both bystanders and healthcare providers will help them feel more confident to act and provide better CPR to cardiac arrest victims. The guidelines also recommend that all bystanders should act quickly and use mobile phones to alert dispatchers, with the ultimate goal of having immediate CPR given to all victims of cardiac arrest.

“If bystanders provide CPR promptly, then we know that cardiac arrest survival rates will increase,” said Elizabeth Char, M.D., American Heart Association Hawaii Division volunteer and Honolulu emergency physician. “Hawaii’s first responders are highly trained, but we need bystanders to get involved so that CPR is begun immediately after a cardiac arrest occurs.”

Key points from the 2015 Guidelines Update provides bystanders, dispatchers and communities with practical guidance to improve the effectiveness of their teamwork:

Untrained bystanders should still call 911 and provide Hands-Only CPR, or CPR without breaths, pushing hard and fast in the center of the chest to the rate of 100-120 compressions per minute. If you are familiar with the Bee Gees song Stayin’ Alive, follow the rhythm of that song in your head while applying chest compressions to achieve the proper number of compressions per minute. If you have received formal CPR training and can perform breaths, add breaths in a 30:2 compressions-to-breaths ratio.

Bystanders should use mobile phones to immediately call 911, placing the phones on speaker, so the dispatcher can help bystanders check for breathing, get the precise location and provide instructions for performing CPR.

Dispatchers should be trained to help bystanders check for breathing and recognize cardiac arrest. Dispatchers should also be aware that brief generalized seizures may be an early sign of cardiac arrest. Most of Hawaii’s EMS dispatchers are trained to help.

Mobile dispatch systems that notify potential rescuers of a nearby presumed cardiac arrest can improve the rate of bystander CPR and shorten the time to first chest compressions. Communities may want to consider this service to improve the chain of survival.

For more information, visit the American Heart Association Hawaii.

Don Weisman is the American Heart Association’s Hawaii Government Relations Director and Communications and Marketing Director of Hawaii and Alaska.