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Be Informed: Myths and Misconceptions in CPR

By Joan Mantini, Chief Editor


Sudden cardiac death appears among the multiple causes of death on 13.5% of death certificates. (photo courtesy Adobe Stock)

“Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when ventricular fibrillation takes place or when the heart stops beating altogether. Without immediate medical attention, the victim collapses, loses consciousness, becomes unresponsive and dies.

Sudden cardiac death appears among the multiple causes of death on 13.5% of death certificates (366 807 of 2 712 630), which suggests that 1 of every 7.4 people in the U.S. will die of sudden cardiac death. Because some people survive sudden cardiac arrest, the lifetime risk of cardiac arrest is even higher, according to “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics—2018 Update: A Report From the American Heart Association.” Yet, according to an online survey done by the American Heart Association, about one in eight respondents said they did not perform CPR on someone in cardiac arrest despite having the opportunity to do so.  The most common reason was the fear of legal consequences, followed by not having their skills up-to-date.  Also ranking on the survey list was, “I did not feel confident performing the steps,” and “I have not been trained to perform CPR.” Which all fall in the list of myths and misconceptions surrounding CPR and First Aid. “

Myths and Misconceptions

1. A heart attack and cardiac arrest are the same thing.
Cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack. The terms are often misused interchangeably; however, they are different conditions and require different treatments. A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply and, if left untreated, it will begin to die due to it not getting enough oxygen. Cardiac arrest is when the heart stops pumping blood around the body, and the person stops breathing normally.

2. If a person is alone, they can avoid a cardiac arrest by coughing.
Leave it to social media to misinform! There has been information circulating on social media claiming that if a person is alone, they can avoid a cardiac arrest by coughing to prevent the condition from getting worse. This information is indeed false. There is no way to stop cardiac arrest.

3. Don’t perform CPR on a casualty if you haven’t been trained; or it is illegal to perform CPR without a license.
The first three minutes after a cardiac arrest are the most important making it essential that bystander CPR is performed. You don’t have to hold a CPR certification to give a victim CPR, but you should have a basic understanding of what you’re doing before getting started. 9-1-1 operators are trained on how to provide instructions on carrying out chest compressions over the phone—any attempt is better than no attempt.

4. It illegal to not perform CPR.
False! If you are required to have CPR training as part of your job requirements, you must do CPR while at work; however, if you are not working, preforming CPR becomes a choice.

5. You can be sued for giving CPR.
Also false. Good Samaritan laws have been put into place in most states that protect bystanders from legal consequences, if they act prudently and in keeping with their training.

6. A casualty can die if CPR is delivered incorrectly.
The reality here is that if a person is at the point of receiving CPR, technically they are already dead. CPR and defibrillation are the single-most effective treatment for a cardiac arrest. CPR can only help the casualty at this point, even if it is not performed perfectly or by a licensed bystander. In the event of a cardiac arrest, it is better to attempt CPR than nothing at all.

Be Informed

What should companies do to keep their employees trained that could save a life and avoid misconceptions? The American Heart Association recommends retraining every two years to maintain proficiency in both CPR and First Aid. The more times a training course is taken, the more confidence the employee gains if they were ever to have to put the training to use.

Most OSHA-approved CPR courses take as little as two hours to complete, and some have portions that can be completed online to save face-to-face/classroom training time for the hands-on training component. Although it is not an OSHA requirement that employers provide CPR training, OSHA’s “Guidelines for First Aid Training Programs” recommends that CPR training be a general program element of a First Aid program.

AEDs: Increasing Survival Rates

An automated external defibrillator (AED) is a medical device designed to analyze the heart rhythm and deliver an electric shock to victims of ventricular fibrillation to restore the heart rhythm back to normal. Ventricular fibrillation is the uncoordinated heart rhythm most often responsible for sudden cardiac arrest. Studies with immediate defibrillation have shown up to 60% survival one year after sudden cardiac arrest, according to OSHA 3185-09N 2003.

Reasons for AEDs in the workplace:

  • Workers may suffer sudden cardiac arrest while on the job.
  • Onsite AEDs save treatment time and can improve survival odds, because they can be used before emergency responders arrive.
  • A heart rhythm in ventricular fibrillation may only be restored to normal by an electric shock.
  • The AED is compact, lightweight, portable, battery-operated, safe and easy to use.

AEDs should be conveniently installed to ensure response within 3-5 minutes in areas where many people work closely together; close to a confined space; areas where electric-powered devices are used; outdoor worksites where lightning may occur; health units where workers may seek treatment for heart attack symptoms; company fitness units and cafeterias; and remote sites, such as off-shore drilling rigs, construction projects, marine vessels, power transmission lines and energy pipelines.

These devices have a proven track record of saving lives in public places, as well as in the workplace.

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