Nearly 90 percent of people who suffer cardiac arrest end up dying from the event, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), often because bystanders don’t know CPR or they don’t want to perform mouth-to-mouth breathing. To begin changing that, the AHA recently updated its CPR guidelines.
The changes simplify the CPR process and connect bystanders to medical professionals who can talk them through the process in real time. Tufts MC cardiologist Mark Link, MD helped develop the guidelines:
▶ If you witness a cardiac arrest, immediately call 911 and place your phone on speaker.
▶ Move your phone near the victim so the dispatcher can check for breathing and provide instructions for performing CPR.
▶ Unless you’re trained in CPR, don’t worry about providing breaths to the victim. Instead, place your hands in the center of the victim’s chest and push hard and fast at a rate of 100 to 120 compressions per minute.
Sudden cardiac death: who’s at risk?
It’s the single largest natural cause of death in the country, yet many of us know little about sudden cardiac death (SCD), which happens when the heart’s electrical system goes haywire. Out of the blue, the heart begins to beat rapidly and irregularly, making it unable to pump blood to the rest of the body. Within seconds, the person collapses in cardiac arrest.
“The person dies because not enough oxygen is getting to the brain and other organs,” explains Martin Maron, MD, Director of the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center at Tufts Medical Center. It’s estimated that SCD results in more than 326,000 deaths per year, nearly 900 a day in the US.
Other causes of SCD
A number of heart diseases and conditions can make someone susceptible to SCD. “Coronary disease related to bad diet, lack of exercise, smoking, genetics, high cholesterol and other risk factors remains the number one cause of death,” Dr. Maron says. But some risk factors are congenital and not coronary disease.
Long QT syndrome and Brugada syndrome, for instance, are disorders of the heart’s electrical system that can cause abnormal heart rhythms. And Marfan syndrome predisposes some people to cardiac arrest by causing parts of the heart to stretch and become weak. And then there’s Dr. Maron’s specialty, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM, in which the heart muscle is thicker than it should be, which can make it difficult to pump blood, especially during exercise. HCM affects one out of every 500 people. It’s the most common cause of sudden death of young people in the US, but many people live their whole lives with no symptoms.
Help for HCM
Patients with HCM are very often misdiagnosed as having asthma, anxiety or panic attacks. If you (or a loved one) suffer from persistent palpitations—or heart flutters— that don’t resolve with rest, or if you experience extreme lightheadedness or instances of fainting, or if you have received an abnormal EKG, heart murmur, or echocardiogram result, Dr. Maron and our program leaders can provide you with careful evaluation, state-of-the- art care and the most advanced diagnostic and treatment options available.
Tufts Medical Center’s Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Center is one of the largest in the Northeast and one of only four “Centers of Excellence” nationwide—the highest rating given by the Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy Association.
To contact The CardioVascular Center at Tufts Medical Center, please call 617-379-1805.