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How to Survive a Heart Attack

CPR, public availability of automated external defibrillators boosts response success

A Japanese study finds that  a heart attack victim's chance of survival increases when both CPR and electronic devices called Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, are used.
A Japanese study finds that a heart attack victim's chance of survival increases when both CPR and electronic devices called Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, are used.

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Philip Graitcer

When a heart attack occurs outside of a hospital, death is frequently the outcome, but a new study has shown that rapid intervention using two strategies can increase the chances for survival.

Emergency physician Arthur Kellermann, a senior principal researcher at the Rand Corporation, says the single most effective way to save a heart attack patient's life is for someone to do cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR.

"Bystander CPR is easy to learn, easy to remember and easy to perform. You can save lives with CPR by just pumping on the chest, you don't even have to do mouth-to-mouth breathing."

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Electronic devices called Automated External Defibrillators, or AEDs, can also help save a heart attack victim's life.

"Automated External Defibrillators allow a citizen with little or no training to apply that counter shock to a patient and potentially restart their heart." Kellermann adds that the sooner the AED is used, the more likely the heart is to restart.

Lessons for successful emergency response

Although clinically AEDs have been shown to be effective, it was unclear whether having them publicly available in places like schools, workplaces and sports facilities would improve community survival rates following cardiac arrests.

The annual number of heart attack patients who survived more than tripled as the number of public access defibrillators increased in Japan.
The annual number of heart attack patients who survived more than tripled as the number of public access defibrillators increased in Japan.

A new study, from the Fire and Disaster Management Agency in Japan, has shown that they do. The annual number of heart attack patients who survived more than tripled as the number of public access AEDs increased.

The Japanese study also demonstrated that when CPR and AEDs were used together, a heart attack victim's chances for survival increased even more.

Kellermann says the study offers two lessons for emergency response. "One, bystander CPR works, and it works at the national level. And second, that strategic placement of defibrillators in very high risk settings where cardiac arrests are more likely to occur and someone can take that device and bring it to the patient is a smart strategy and complements community training in bystander CPR."

Kellermann says he hopes public health officials incorporate these findings as they develop community strategies to increase the survival of patients who have heart attacks outside of a hospital. This study was published in the "New England Journal of Medicine."

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