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Get In There and Save a Life
 Safety Feature Story

Get In There and Save a Life
Simple chest compressions can save heart attack victims

Get In There and Save a Life(HealthDay News) -- If you're at the gym or in a restaurant when someone near you has a heart attack, don't run in search of a portable defibrillator or stand there yelling for help.

Step in and do plain old CPR.

Studies have found that cardiopulmonary resuscitation is not only the best way to save lives but that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation can be skipped altogether. Sustained chest compressions increase survival rates dramatically.

"It's been shown to work," Dr. Alex Garza, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, D.C., told HealthDay. Garza was named the assistant secretary for health affairs and chief medical officer of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in October 2009.

Both the American Red Cross and the American Heart Association have endorsed chest compressions as an effective, life-saving alternative. By simplifying the process, they say, the hope is that bystanders will be more apt to get in there and perform chest compressions on the ailing person until help arrives.

The American Heart Association says that fewer than one-third of those who suffer cardiac arrest in a public place receive CPR.

Bystanders simply are "worried about making an error, and they forget a lot of the steps," said Dr. Marc Eckstein, associate professor of emergency medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California and medical director of the Los Angeles Fire Department.

"Mouth-to-mouth is complex, and many people are reluctant to perform it," he told HealthDay. "Performing compression only, the results are comparable to full CPR -- and you can teach someone to do it in a matter of minutes."

But how many compressions? Where? And how fast?

For those familiar with the Bee Gees' song "Stayin' Alive" from the movie "Saturday Night Fever," the rhythm can come easy. Doing compressions in the center of the chest to the beat of the song will produce about 100 a minute, considered a good pace.

"Laypersons with no formal training in CPR, when they're presented with someone in cardiac arrest, can do a pretty decent job with chest compressions," Garza said.

And the Heart Association says that CPR provided by a bystander immediately after sudden cardiac arrest can double or triple a victim's chance of surviving.

Garza and Eckstein have studied what happens when paramedics change their cardiac protocols to focus more on chest compressions, Garza in Kansas City and Eckstein in Los Angeles. Both found that survival rates improved when paramedics delayed intubating patients, administering medications or performing defibrillation in favor of consistent compressions.

Chest compression CPR is more valuable than defibrillation, Garza said, because rescuers often arrive too late for effective defibrillation, which he said needs to occur within five minutes of cardiac arrest.

"The problem is, most paramedics don't arrive in the first five minutes," he said. By the time rescuers arrive, the body's tissues are starved for oxygen and the heart cells are depleted of energy. "If you attempt a defibrillation at that time, it's less likely to be successful," Garza said. "They're more likely to flat-line."

On the Web

To learn more about hands-only CPR, visit the American Heart Association.

SOURCES: HealthDay News; Alex Garza, M.D., associate professor, emergency medicine, Washington Hospital Center and Georgetown University School of Medicine, Washington, D.C.; Marc Eckstein, M.D., associate professor, emergency medicine, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, director of pre-hospital care, Los Angeles County/University of Southern California Medical Center, and medical director, Los Angeles Fire Department, Los Angeles; American Red Cross (; American Heart Association (

Author: Anne Thompson

Publication Date: Sept. 30, 2010

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