When someone is having a heart attack, it’s critical to seek help as quickly as possible. You might think this means calling 911 and waiting for first responders to arrive to administer the care the person needs, and while that’s definitely something you should do, you also can help by beginning to perform CPR. According to the American Heart Association, approximately 90 percent of people who go into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital die, but if performed quickly enough CPR can double or even triple that person’s chances of survival.
“In many, if not most cases, if you’re performing CPR, you’re doing so to save a loved one’s life,” said Blount Memorial Hospital cardiologist Dr. Jane Souther. “This is why it’s important to know the correct way to perform CPR, or even hands-only CPR, which has proven to be equally effective. With hands-only CPR, you don’t have to perform the breathing techniques you may have seen or been taught before; it’s just chest compressions. It’s important, though, to do them properly,” she explained. “You want to focus on pushing hard and fast on the center of the chest to the beat of a song that has 100 to 120 beats per minute, such as ‘Stayin’ Alive’ by the Bee Gees. Remembering the beat of a familiar song really can make all the difference,” she added.
While knowing how to perform hands-only CPR can be life-saving – and can be learned in less than two minutes – knowing when to perform it is even more critical. “All of us should be aware of the warning signs of a heart attack, so we can spot them when we see them,” Souther said. “Early Heart Attack Care (EHAC) means being able to see when someone is experiencing mild chest pain, pressure or discomfort; shortness of breath; nausea or vomiting; excessive fatigue; or pain that travels down one or both arms. Part two of EHAC is responding, meaning to call 911, then perform hands-only CPR or find and deploy an Automated External Defibrillator (AED),” she said. “Remember that your actions really can save lives,” she added.
And, sometimes, the life you save by recognizing and executing EHAC just might be your own. “Some patients confuse the early symptoms of a heart attack with heartburn or indigestion, and may not feel like these feelings are life-threatening,” Souther said. “The milder the symptoms, the easier they are to ignore, as well. We all lead busy lives and don’t always take mild discomfort seriously. But you shouldn’t sit there in pain thinking it will go away on its own – if you’re experiencing these symptoms, get yourself checked as quickly as possible. Remember that women’s symptoms can be very different from men’s symptoms. Often, women experience palpitations, pain in the shoulders or neck, or extreme weakness, which also can be early signs of a heart attack,” she explained. “The majority of damage done to the heart during a heart attack occurs during the first two hours, so you could be doing real damage to your heart, your life and your future if you delay that visit to the hospital,” she added.
You can learn the life-saving hands-only CPR technique in as little as 90 seconds by watching an instructional video available at heart.org/handsonlycpr.