8 common misconceptions about CPR & cardiac arrest

CPR during a cardiac arrest can literally mean the difference between life or death. Many are reluctant to help someone who has suffered from a cardiac arrest. This can often be due to common misconceptions about cardiac arrests and CPR. Below are eight popular myths and how true they really are.


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1. A heart attack and cardiac arrest are the same thing.

A cardiac arrest is not the same thing as a heart attack. They are different conditions and require different treatments. A heart attack happens when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply and, if left untreated, will begin to die because it is not getting enough oxygen.

A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally.  Many cardiac arrests in adults happen because of a heart attack because their heart has develop an abnormal heart rhythm which can lead to a cardiac arrest.


2. Don’t perform CPR on a casualty if you haven’t been trained.

If you have not been trained to perform CPR, St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies Ltd recommends that everyone attempts chest compressions when assisting with a cardiac arrest casualty.

The first three minutes after a cardiac arrest are the most important therefore it is essential that bystander CPR is performed. Ambulance dispatches will always provide instructions on how to carry out chest compressions over the phone.


3. You do not need to perform rescue breaths when performing CPR.

There has been some confusion for many years now that rescue breaths should not be provided when performing CPR, with popular television adverts regarding bystander CPR adding to some of that uncertainty.

Someone who has suffered a cardiac arrest will still have 3 or 4 minutes’ worth of oxygenated blood residing in their system and it is vitally important to pump this blood throughout the casualty’s body by means of chest compressions.  After this period of time, the oxygenated blood will deplete and the importance of breathing for the casualty becomes crucial to aiding the casualty’s survival. Two rescue breaths should be given after every 30 compressions.

If a child suffers a cardiac arrest, it is very important for a First Aider to provide 5 rescue breaths first as a child’s body does not retain oxygenated blood the same way as adults.  These 5 breaths should then be followed by 30 compressions and then continue with 2 rescue breaths and 30 compressions until emergency help arrives.

However, we recognise that some people may be unable or unwilling to provide rescue breaths for an unresponsive casualty who is not breathing normally and therefore strongly recommend delivering chest compressions only.


4. If a person is alone, they can avoid a cardiac arrest by coughing.

There has been information circulating on social media claiming that a person who is alone can avoid a cardiac arrest by coughing to prevent the condition getting worse. This information is false and should not be followed. If you go into cardiac arrest there is no way to ‘stop’ this.


5. A casualty can die if CPR is delivered incorrectly.

If a person is at the point of receiving CPR, technically they are already dead. CPR and defibrillation is the single most effective treatment for a cardiac arrest. CPR can only help the casualty at this point, even if it is not performed perfectly.

In the event of a cardiac arrest, it is better to attempt CPR than nothing at all.


6. You can be sued for performing CPR.

Some people are scared to perform CPR as they are concerned that they may hurt the person who needs treatment or be sued for their actions. Although there is no ‘Good Samaritan’ law in Scotland as of yet, there has never been a case of someone facing legal action for performing CPR to a casualty.


7. It takes too long to learn CPR.

St Andrew’s First Aid Training and Supplies Ltd run a short two hour course covering CPR and how to use a defibrillator.


8. You can contract HIV/AIDS from delivering rescue breaths during CPR.

People can be reluctant to deliver full CPR (30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths) to a stranger at the risk of contracting HIV or AIDS. This is highly unlikely to happen as HIV and AIDS can only be spread through direct contact with blood, semen, or vaginal fluid.


CPR Movement

We hope this information can help to spread awareness of the importance of bystander CPR across Scotland.

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