If you suffer from cardiac arrest, help is only a 911 call away. Paramedics
can use defibrillators to shock your heart back to a normal rhythm.
But unfortunately, every minute you spend waiting for their arrival
reduces your chance of survival by 10%. Help may soon be closer than
your local paramedic and it may come from an unlikely source — someone
without medical expertise.
Until recently, witnesses to someone having a cardiac arrest were limited
in the help they could provide — calling 911 and performing CPR
(cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Now, portable automated defibrillators
about the size of a laptop computer are available. These devices not
only deliver a shock to restore a regular heartbeat, they also determine
whether a shock is really needed, making it possible and safe for people
without medical training to use.
A recent study placed the automated defibrillators in roughly 1,000
public locations in 24 cities, including shopping centers, sports facilities,
office buildings, community centers, factories, entertainment venues,
apartment buildings, and schools. Volunteers who worked in these locations
were trained to perform CPR or trained to perform CPR and use the automated
defibrillator. After two years and 292 resuscitation attempts, the overall
survival rate for the study was still very low, 15%, but the use of automated
defibrillators saved almost twice as many lives as CPR alone. This shows
automated defibrillators can save lives when used by common people trained
to operate the equipment.
Nearly 250,000 Americans die from cardiac arrest every year. Although
most of these deaths occur in the home, approximately 20% occur in public.
So automated defibrillators in public places could save a substantial
number of lives. The equipment may become commonplace someday, especially
in locations where senior citizens are likely to spend time, as this
population is most at risk for cardiac arrest. In the future, automated
defibrillators may even be found in the homes of people who have suffered
a heart attack.
You can make a few phone calls to find out if the places you frequent have
automated defibrillators. But the most important thing you can do is lower
your chances of ever having cardiac arrest in the first place. This means
altering or eliminating the risk factors for heart disease, including high
blood pressure, smoking, cholesterol levels, and diabetes. Regular exercise
and a healthy diet can help you lower some of these risk factors.
May 2004 Update
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