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What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating normally and cannot pump blood to the rest of the body.

There are approximately 40,000 cardiac arrests in Canada each year.

Over 8 in 10 cardiac arrests occur in public places or at home.

Only 1 in 10 survives a cardiac arrest that happens outside of a hospital.

The chance of surviving a cardiac arrest doubles when early CPR is used in combination with an AED in the first few minutes.

It can happen right before your eyes to someone who’s not a stranger

Michelle. Saved daughter with CPR.

Signs of cardiac arrest
  • Cardiac arrest happens suddenly. There are usually no warning signs.
  • The person collapses. They don't respond to touch or sound.
  • They either make gasping sounds or stop breathing entirely.

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency. Without your fast action, they may not survive.

What to do?
  1. Phone 9-1-1 and shout for an AED.
  2. Start pushing hard and fast in the centre of their chest.
      Think of the beat of the song "Stayin' Alive" to get the right rhythm.
      Don't stop until someone else can take over or the person begins to respond.
  3. Use an AED if one is available.
      AEDs are safe and simple to use.
      Turn it on and follow the simple voice prompts that tell you everything you need to do. It will not deliver a shock unless needed.

Take action. Don’t delay. When the heart stops beating, oxygen-rich blood is not getting to the brain, heart and organs. Brain death can begin in as little as 3 minutes. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate action.

Performing CPR right away and using an AED more than doubles the person’s chance of surviving. CPR helps to push oxygen-filled blood to the brain and the rest of the body. The AED helps reset a normal heartbeat.

You are the person's best chance. Have the courage to act quickly.

Don’t wait for EMS to arrive – they may be several minutes away.

Don’t wait for someone else to step in. Fear or uncertainty may cause you to hesitate, but the most effective CPR starts immediately, the sooner the better. Doing CPR – even if it is not perfect – gives the person their best chance.

Don't hesitate. You can't hurt. You can only help.
If you are uncertain, the 9-1-1 dispatcher can coach you through the steps of CPR

The difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack

Cardiac arrest and heart attack are not the same, although people often confuse the terms. Both are medical emergencies.

What?

Cardiac Arrest

  • Is an electrical problem in the heart.
  • The heart goes into an erratic and ineffective rhythm and cannot pump blood to the rest of the body
  • Within minutes, the heart stops entirely.
  • That’s why it’s so important to act quickly.

Heart Attack

  • Is a “plumbing” problem in the heart.
  • Blood flow is slowed or blocked.
  • The heart is still beating effectively.
What does it look like?

Cardiac Arrest

  • A person in cardiac arrest usually collapses without warning
  • They won’t respond when you touch or talk to them
  • They either make gasping sounds or stop breathing entirely.
  • Heart Attack

    • Person is generally conscious. They are often in discomfort.
    What to do?

    Cardiac Arrest

  1. Phone 9-1-1 and shout for an AED.
  2. Push hard and fast in the centre of the chest
      About 100-120 times per minute
      To the beat of "Stayin' Alive"
  3. Use an AED if one is available. Use it as soon as it arrives.
      Turn it on and follow the simple voice prompts.

Don't hesitate or wait for someone else to act. You are the person's best chance.

Heart Attack

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Stop all activity: Sit or lie down, in whatever position is most comfortable.
  3. Take your nitroglycerin (if prescribed). Take your normal dosage.
  4. Take Aspirin® (ASA): Chew either one 325 mg or two 81 mg tablets. Don’t take if you are allergic or intolerant
  5. Rest and wait
Who is at risk?

Cardiac arrest can occur:

  • At any age.
  • At any time.
  • To people of all fitness levels.
  • Without warning.
Who is at risk?

Most cardiac arrests are caused by arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) that may not be diagnosed ahead of time.

Some other causes of cardiac arrest include:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Electrocution, drowning, choking, trauma, respiratory distress
  • Recreational drug use

When the heart stops beating, oxygen-rich blood is not getting to the brain, heart and organs. Brain death can begin in as little as 3 minutes. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate action.

Be ready to respond. Your fast action can more than double the chance of surviving. Read about CPR and how to use an AED.

Related information

While you can do CPR and use an AED even if you have never taken a course, the big advantage of CPR, AED and First aid training is the confidence and courage you gain, preparing you to give a person in cardiac arrest their best chance of surviving:

  • Heartsaver: CPR and AED training course.
    This course is approximately 4 hours long.
  • Standard First Aid and CPR course.
    This course is 16 hours long.
  • CPR Anytime® - 20 minute video for at home learning. Choose between Infant CPR or CPR for adults. Learn more under “Other Training Resources”.
  • Professionals can access guidelines and courses through the Learn CPR page
  • We frequently offer FREE public events to give you a hand on learning approach to Hands-only CPR* in less than an hour

To find useful services to help you on your journey with heart disease, see our services and resources listing.