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Heart Association Breathes New Life Into CPR Guidelines

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The need for change is urgent, since the AHA says that only 5% of those who suffer a cardiac arrest are saved. If that percentage could be increased to 20%, it's estimated another 50,000 people might survive each year.

What the AHA hopes to accomplish with these guidelines is to strengthen the "chain of survival" in the event of a heart attack. That means rescuers should immediately call "911" for emergency assistance, then begin CPR so that oxygenated blood will continue flowing through the heart and to the brain.

Next, if it is available, use the automated external defibrillator (AED). This laptop computer-sized device can be operated safely by a non-medically trained person to administer a shock that can restart a heart and return it to its normal rhythm. For each minute defibrillation is delayed, the patient's chances of survival drop by 7 to 10%.

In a demonstration showing what would happen in the best-case scenario, Hazinski showed that it's possible to determine whether someone is conscious, get a call to 911, and administer a jolt from the AED in just two minutes. That's a lot quicker than the best average emergency response time in the District of Columbia, which is six and a half minutes.

The AED actually has a computerized voice that tells the user what to do, and the AHA would like to see these devices in places where people congregate. For instance, in Chicago's O'Hare Airport, you can't walk for one minute without being in range of an AED.

Now that the new CPR approach is out, the AHA hopes to get as many people as possible trained in courses offered around the country. In fact, the voluntary organization is hoping to launch classes in every middle and high school in the coming year.

It only takes three or four hours to become proficient in CPR and the use of an AED, but what happens if you see someone in cardiac distress and don't know what to do?

"It's always better to do something than nothing. So any attempt to do CPR, even if you don't think you're doing it well, has to be better than no attempt at all," Edward Stapleton, MD, of the State University of New York at Stony Brook, tells WebMD.

 

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