Many understand that cardiac arrest is a serious problem involving the heart, but most don't know the specifics of the subject, just what a killer it can be, or how to respond when it occurs in the workplace.

Quick Facts about Cardiac Arrest. Cardiac arrest is when the pump function of the heart suddenly stops. Ventricular fibrillation, also called V-fib, is where the lower chambers of the heart quiver instead of normally contracting. Pulseless ventricular tachycardia involves an extremely fast heartbeat, but without effective cardiac output in the lower chambers of the heart and no effective pulse. These irregular heart rhythms can cause the heart to suddenly stop pumping blood out to the rest of the body. The most common cause of a sudden cardiac arrest is a heart attack involving either of the above irregular heart rhythms. Bradycardia, which is a slow heartbeat, accounts for a small number of cardiac arrests.

The causative factors are vast, including illegal drugs and certain prescription medications, respiratory arrest, drowning, trauma, choking, and electrocution. A previous diagnosis of heart disease may or may not exist. Sometimes a cardiac arrest occurs without any apparent causative agent.

Someone suffering a cardiac arrest will suddenly collapse, be unresponsive to verbal stimuli and gentle shaking, and cease to breathe normally. The person will also have an absent pulse, but those not medically trained should look for signs of circulation (normal breathing, coughing, twitching, movement, and improved color) instead of checking for a pulse.

Once the heart fails to pump blood to the rest of the body, it only takes four to six minutes for brain damage to begin. Without immediate appropriate treatment, the victim can die within minutes. It's estimated that 95% cardiac arrest victims die before they ever reach the hospital.

Chance of survival is decreased by seven to ten percent per minute of delay until defibrillation, when CPR isn't performed. The sudden cardiac arrest survival rate is 48-74% when CPR is immediately initiated and defibrillation takes place within three to five minutes.

Should You Have An Automatic External Defibrillator? Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) have become commonplace in schools, casinos, and airports. Knowing the above facts, employers should definitely consider having an AED as part of their workplace safety program. After the electrodes are applied to the victim's chest, the device evaluates cardiac wave patterns. If the machine finds an abnormality, such as ventricular fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia, it sends an electric shock to the heart to return it to a normal rhythm.

The operation of such a machine may send the red flags of liability up for some employers. Thanks to every state having Good Samaritan laws covering lay rescuers using an AED and the civil liability immunity provided by the Federal Cardiac Arrest Survival Act, you don't have to worry about liability issues. An AED isn't like the advanced defibrillators used by medical professionals. In fact, The American Heart Association says that since an AED automatically analyzes and shocks, it be safely operated by trained lay rescuers. The machine is compact, portable, battery operated, easy to use, durable, and lightweight.

Aside from the potential for any employee to have an accident or underlying medical condition, American workplaces are seeing more and more employees working long past retirement age. Depending on the response of emergency services can lose precious minutes, and since the amount of time elapsed between cardiac arrest and defibrillation is directly linked to the survival of the victim, an AED can mean the difference between life and death. It just makes good sense to have at least a few of your employees trained to operate an AED.

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