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What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating normally.

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

Up to 85% of cardiac arrests occur in public places, or at home.

Less than 1 in 10 are estimated to survive a cardiac arrests that happen outside of a hospital.

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

Michelle. Saved daughter with CPR.

Signs of cardiac arrest

Signs of a cardiac arrest include:

  • Sudden collapse.
  • Sudden unresponsiveness to touch or sound.
  • Abnormal or no breathing.

Cardiac arrest is a medical emergency.

  • Death  occurs within minutes after the heart stops.
  • Performing CPR right away and using an AED (automated external defibrillator) can keep a person alive until emergency help arrives.

Be aware: if you live in a remote community, it is especially urgent that you learn CPR. It can take a long time for emergency services to arrive. If you know CPR, you could save a life.

The difference between cardiac arrest and heart attack

During cardiac arrest, the heart is not beating effectively.

  • Blood flow has stopped.
  • You do not respond.
  • Usually causes death if it's not treated within minutes.

During a heart attack, your heart is still beating. You are still alive.

  • A heart attack happens when a blocked artery limits blood from reaching part of the heart.
  • Medical attention is urgently needed, but not CPR since the heart is still beating.
  • A severe heart attack can cause the heart to stop beating.
  • If this happens, it’s no longer a heart attack, it is a cardiac arrest.

If someone collapses, and is unresponsive, you can save their life. 

  • Call 9-1-1 and shout for an AED.
  • Push hard and fast in the centre of the chest.  
  • Use an AED if available.

When you push on the centre of the chest during CPR, you take the place of the person’s heart. You are helping to push oxygen-filled blood to the brain and the rest of the body.

Doing CPR – even if not perfect – gives the person their best chance. You can’t hurt. You can only help.

Don’t hesitate to act. Delaying can mean the difference between life and death.

It is  scary to see someone whose heart has stopped beating. But if you start CPR right away, you can help save that person’s life.

Who is at risk?

Cardiac arrest can occur:

  • At any age.
  • At any time.
  • To people of all fitness levels.
  • Without warning.
Causes

Most cardiac arrests are caused by arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) such as ventricular fibrillation.

Cardiac arrest can also be triggered by:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Heart attack
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Electrocution
  • Recreational drug use

Be aware: If the heart stops for any reason, blood is no longer getting to the brain, heart and organs . This is a medical emergency that requires immediate action.

You can save a life by learning CPR and how to use an AED.

Resources

First aid, CPR and AED training can help you keep someone alive if they are in cardiac arrest.