February is Heart Month – a time for Canadians to refresh their knowledge about heart health basics and what to do in a cardiac emergency. For example, did you know that heart attacks and cardiac arrest are different things?
A heart attack is when blood flow to part of the heart is restricted, and the muscle can’t get oxygen. That section of the heart begins to die if blood flow isn’t restored quickly, leading to damage that can range from mild to severe, or even fatal.
Signs of a heart attack include:
- Chest discomfort
- Upper body discomfort (neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back)
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms may not always be sudden or severe, and may include one or any combination of the symptoms listed above. Women may experience different symptoms, including heartburn, fatigue and anxiety.
If you (or someone you know) are experiencing these symptoms, call 911, then sit or lie down while you wait for help to arrive. Take nitroglycerin if you have had it prescribed; also chew and swallow one 325 mg or two 81 mg ASA (Aspirin) tablets. A heart attack is a medical emergency; always seek medical attention.
On the other hand, cardiac arrest is when the heart abruptly stops pumping. It’s caused by an abnormal heart rhythm and means that the heart cannot pump blood to the rest of the body. If bystanders don’t act immediately to help, death occurs within minutes.
A person who has suffered cardiac arrest will:
- Collapse suddenly
- Be unresponsive to touch or sound
- Be making gasping sounds or not breathing at all
If you see someone in cardiac arrest, call 911 immediately. If you are in a public place, shout for a defibrillator (AED), and/or ask the 911 operator to tell you where the closest AED is. Start CPR immediately, and use the defibrillator as soon as it arrives. Don’t hesitate to act – every second counts. Cardiac arrest requires immediate action. Call 911 and start CPR.
All about AEDs
Nova Scotians in many parts of the province are lucky to have access to community-based AEDs – equipment that may drastically increase someone’s likelihood of surviving a cardiac arrest.
An AED is a medical device that analyzes a patient’s heart’s rhythm and, if necessary, delivers an electric shock to help the heart re-establish an effective rhythm and get blood pumping again.
AEDs are becoming more common in public spaces around Nova Scotia, including in workplaces, shopping malls, ice rinks, recreation centres and, soon, schools. This is good news, especially in communities where the nearest ambulance or hospital may be some distance away. The provincial AED registry tracks where AEDs are located, so that you can find one when you need it.
Immediate action by bystanders makes a huge difference in heart attack and cardiac arrest survival rates. This Heart Month, why not learn how to do CPR, check the provincial AED registry map to find out where the AEDs in your area are located, and watch this video on how to use an AED. You could help save someone’s life.