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Each year, an estimated 600,000 Americans suffer a cardiac arrest, during which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. With February designated as National Heart Month, it’s appropriate to address cardiopulmonary resuscitation, better known as CPR. Everyone, not just people in healthcare, should learn the basics of CPR.

By performing CPR on an individual, especially before the paramedics arrive, you can give a better chance of survival. “If someone immediately begins cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on a person in cardiac arrest, the chest compressions can keep blood flowing to the person’s brain and other vital organs —and more than double the odds of survival,” said Ron Anglo, Chief Clinical Officer at Chelsea Jewish Lifecare. “The simple truth is that CPR saves lives.”

Man having a Heart Attack

The Importance of AED’s

The automated external defibrillator (AED) is a computerized medical device that can check a person’s heart rhythm through monitors. Essentially, it “shocks” the heart back into correct rhythm. “It’s essential to know how to use such equipment,” said Anglo. “It can make the difference between life and death.” AED’s can be found in public places such as airports, recreation centers, banks, casinos, churches, gyms, and schools. All ages can learn this potentially lifesaving skill. Added Anglo, “Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a medical background to learn to use an AED. But it’s imperative that an AED operator know how to recognize the signs of a sudden cardiac arrest, how to use the equipment and when to activate the EMS system.”

AED System

Should You Give CPR?

One of the most frequently asked questions about CPR is whether you should you administer CPR if your knowledge is limited. Below is advice from the American Heart Association:

Untrained. If you’re not trained in CPR, then provide hands-only CPR. That means uninterrupted chest compressions of 100 to 120 a minute until paramedics arrive (described in more detail below). You don’t need to try rescue breathing.

Trained and ready to go. If you’re well-trained and confident in your ability, check to see if there is a pulse and breathing. If there is no breathing or a pulse within 10 seconds, begin chest compressions. Start CPR with 30 chest compressions before giving two rescue breaths.

Trained but rusty. If you’ve previously received CPR training but you’re not confident in your abilities, then do chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 a minute. (Details described below.)

The above advice applies to adults, children and infants needing CPR, but not newborns (infants up to 4 weeks old). Keep in mind that CPR can keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs until more definitive medical treatment can restore a normal heart rhythm. When the heart stops, the lack of oxygenated blood can cause brain damage in only a few minutes. A person may die within eight to 10 minutes.

Call 911 sign

CPR Classes Can Make a Difference

Today there are a multitude of online and in-person CPR classes. The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Red Cross (ARC) offer CPR courses, at times for free. Often, high schools and middle schools offer courses as well. The best option is to go to the Red Cross or the American Heart Association website and find a location and schedule that best suits your needs. No matter which way you get your certification, what matters most is learning this important skill so you can be prepared.

“Cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States,” said Anglo. “If a person is given CPR right after they go into cardiac arrest, their chance of survival is much higher. Remember, four out of five cardiac arrests happen at home. The life you save with CPR is very likely to be a family member.”