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October 17th, 2012

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month

A teacher demonstrates CPR.

October is Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, dedicated to raising awareness about what sudden cardiac arrest is and how to respond in the event of cardiac arrest. The American Heart Association (AHA) encourages everyone to learn to identify sudden cardiac arrest and respond quickly to help save the victim.

Cardiac arrest is when the heart suddenly stops beating, or beats irregularly, resulting in no blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. It can happen suddenly in people who have or may not have diagnosed heart disease. Without immediate CPR, cardiac death will occur within minutes. Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death - nearly 400,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occur annually in the United States.

"When a teen or adult has a sudden cardiac arrest, survival depends on immediately getting CPR from someone nearby. Sadly, 89 percent of people who suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest die because they don’t receive immediate CPR from someone on the scene," said David A. Violante, MPH, EMT-P Assistant Director of Emergency Medical Services, Arlington Fire District Bureau of EMS and AHA board member.

"Unfortunately, only 41 percent of people who experience a cardiac arrest at home, work or in public get the immediate help that they need before emergency help arrives," Violante said.

Heart attack is not the same as cardiac arrest. The term "heart attack" is often mistakenly used to describe sudden cardiac arrest. While a heart attack may cause cardiac arrest and sudden death, the terms don’t mean the same thing. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) refers to death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply, not necessarily resulting in the death of the heart attack victim.

Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions and stops beating. Death occurs within minutes after the heart stops. This is caused by abnormal, or irregular, heart rhythms (called arrhythmias). The most common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the heart’s lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and don’t pump blood. Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is performed or an automated external defibrillator (AED) is used to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes.

Hands-Only CPR has just two easy steps: If you see a teen or adult suddenly collapse, (1) Call 9-1-1; and (2) Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of the disco song "Stayin’ Alive" until help arrives.

According to the American Heart Association, people feel more confident performing Hands-Only CPR and are more likely to remember the correct rhythm when trained to the beat of the disco classic "Stayin’ Alive." "Stayin’ Alive" has more than 100 beats per minute, which is the rate you should push on the chest during CPR.

The AHA’s 60-second instructional CPR video is available at A class locator for full CPR courses are also available at

The American Heart Association advocates for widespread Hands-Only CPR training through the CPR in the Schools Bill, which requires training prior to high school graduation, and expanded use of public access AED’s. To learn more about this potentially life-saving program, please visit

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