Harvard Heart Letter

Six minutes to save a life

Adapted from the Harvard Heart Letter

Minutes matter when someone collapses from a cardiac arrest.

Every day more than a thousand Americans keel over, felled by a cardiac arrest. Most stricken with this type of attack die. More could be saved with faster emergency care.

There are two kinds of heart attack. One, called a myocardial infarction, happens when a blood clot blocks an artery that nourishes heart muscle. This blockage usually causes chest pain or other warning signs that can last for hours. The second type, called a cardiac arrest, strikes so fast that there's little or no time to call for help. Unless two specific treatments — cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and an electric shock to the heart — are started within six minutes, the chances of surviving or living without permanent brain damage dwindle to nothing.

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