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Every year thousands of individuals throughout the United Kingdom suffer a cardiac arrest. Knowing the facts about cardiac arrest and the necessary treatment involved could make the crucial difference between life and death.

Fewer than one in five people who suffer a survivable cardiac arrest receive the life-saving intervention they need from people nearby, according to NHS figures that heart campaigners describe as “dire”.

The Statistics for surviving a Cardiac Arrest

In some parts of England, just one in 14 people who collapse with a cardiac arrest live, according to figures compiled from patient records kept by the country’s 12 regional ambulance services. In the East Midlands, ambulance crews managed to save only three of the 40 people they were called to as a result of cardiac arrest in June this year – a 7.5% survival rate.

Survival chances are highest in Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, where one in three such patients were later discharged from hospital alive after being resuscitated by ambulance teams. But across England as a whole in June, only 58 of the 314 casualties attended by paramedics lived – just 18.5%.

1. Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops pumping blood around the body.

2. The most common cause of cardiac arrest is a life threatening abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation. Ventricular fibrillation occurs when the electrical activity of the heart becomes so chaotic that the heart stops pumping and quivers ‘fibrillates’ instead.

3. Cardiac arrest can also be caused if you lose a large amount of blood or fluid; lack of oxygen, the body being very hot or very cold or by a blood clot in the lung or coronary arteries.

4. 30,000 people each year in the UK have cardiac arrests outside of the hospital environment – less than 10 per cent will survive to be discharged from hospital.

5. Around 500 young people (under 18 years of age) die suddenly each year with apparently no explanation or cause of death. Often an inherited heart condition is to blame.

6. Victims of cardiac arrest can be saved if a defibrillator device is immediately available to deliver an electric shock to restore the heart to its normal rhythm.

7. The defibrillation shock can originate from a manual defibrillator (administered by a medical professional trained in Advanced Life Support) or from an automated external defibrillator (administered by a bystander).

8. Automated External Defibrillators are sophisticated, reliable, safe, computerised devices that deliver electric shocks to victims of cardiac arrest.

9. For every minute that passes without defibrillation chances of survival decreases by 14 per cent. Research shows that applying a controlled shock within five minutes of collapse provides the best possible chance of survival.

10. If defibrillation is delivered promptly, survival rates as high as 75% have been reported. 

What’s the difference between a cardiac arrest and a heart attack?

A heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same.

A heart attack happens when the blood supply to the heart muscle is cut off. This is often caused by a clot in one of the coronary arteries. The heart is still pumping blood around the body during a heart attack. The person will be conscious and breathing.

A heart attack can lead to a cardiac arrest. It’s vitally important to get medical attention immediately by calling 999 for an ambulance if you experience heart attack symptoms.

How is a cardiac arrest treated?

Starting immediate CPR is vital as it keeps blood and oxygen circulating to the brain and around the body. A defibrillator will then deliver a controlled electric shock to try and get the heart beating normally again.

Public access defibrillators are often in locations like train stations and shopping centres. Anyone can use one and you don’t need training to do so.

If you’re with someone who’s having a cardiac arrest, call 999, start CPR and use a defibrillator if there’s one nearby. Follow instructions from the 999 operator until emergency services take over.

For guidance on Heart Attacks please visit the NHS website section on heart attack overview.