Ideally, everyone should know what to do if
someone has a heart attack or cardiac arrest.
About three in every four cardiac arrests happen
away from hospital and there may be nobody else
around to help.
The British Heart Foundation co-ordinates an
initiative called Heartstart UK. Heartstart UK
schemes train people in emergency life support.
For more details see page 34.
If someone has a heart attack
1 Get help immediately.
2 Get the person to sit back in a comfortable
3 Phone 999 for an ambulance and then phone
If a person seems to be unconscious
• Approach with care. To find out if the person is
conscious, gently shake him or her, and shout
loudly, ‘Are you all right?’
• If there is no response, shout for help.
• You will need to assess the casualty and take
suitable action. Remember A, B, C – Airway,
Open the person’s airway by
tilting the head back and
lifting the chin.
Look, listen and feel for
signs of breathing for up to
Action: Rescue breathing
If the person is unconscious
and not breathing, phone 999
for an ambulance.
Put the person face upwards
on the floor.
Open the airway again and
give two of your own breaths
to the person. This is called
Close the person’s nostrils
with your fingers and thumb
and blow into the mouth.
Make sure that no air can leak
out and that the chest rises
Check for signs of circulation.
This means checking for signs of
normal breathing, coughing or
movement. Take no more than
10 seconds doing this.
Action: Chest compression
If there are no signs of a
circulation, or if you are at all
unsure, start chest compression.
Find the notch at the bottom of
the breastbone. Measure two
fingers’width above this. Place
the heel of one hand there. Place
your other hand on top. Press
down firmly and smoothly
15 times. Do this at a rate of
about 100 times a minute – that’s
faster than one each second.
Repeat 2 rescue breaths and
then 15 chest compressions.
Keep doing the 2 rescue
breaths followed by 15 chest
● the casualty shows signs of life,or
● professional help arrives, or
● you become exhausted.
Is a heart attack the same as cardiac arrest?
No. The term “heart attack” is often mistakenly used to describe cardiac arrest. While a heart attack may cause cardiac arrest and sudden death, the terms don’t mean the same thing. Heart attacks are caused by a blockage that stops blood flow to the heart. A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) refers to death of heart muscle tissue due to the loss of blood supply, not necessarily resulting in the death of the heart attack victim.
Cardiac arrest is caused when the heart’s electrical system malfunctions. In cardiac arrest death results when the heart suddenly stops working properly. This may be caused by abnormal, or irregular, heart rhythms (called arrhythmias).
A common arrhythmia in cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation. This is when the heart’s lower chambers suddenly start beating chaotically and don’t pump blood. Death occurs within minutes after the heart stops. Cardiac arrest may be reversed if CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is performed and a defibrillator is used to shock the heart and restore a normal heart rhythm within a few minutes.