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Planning Retirement Online

Defibrillators save lives

October 2016

A warning has just been issued that a number of defibrillators in public places may be defective.

While this is mostly the concern of the organisations and groups which have installed them, nevertheless it made us here at Laterlife think about heart problems.

Most of us are well aware that hearts can cause all sorts of problems as we age, but often we are not sure of exactly what is happening. Two common situations we will all have heard of are heart attack and cardiac arrest. They are not the same thing.

In simple terms, a heart attack is a circulation problem and sudden cardiac arrest is an electrical problem. Generally a heart attack is when blood flow to the heart is blocked, while a sudden cardiac arrest is when the heart malfunctions and stops beating unexpectedly.  It often occurs when the electrical activity in the heart becomes disrupted and the heartbeat can get dangerously fast or totally lose rhythm and become chaotic. A heart attack can also cause a dangerous heart rhythm leading to cardiac arrest.

Either way, cardiac arrest is terrifying.  It means your heart stops beating properly and won’t adequately pump blood. This can lead to your brain and other vital organs becoming starved of blood and its life-sustaining oxygen and nutrients. Patients can suffer permanent damage to the brain and other organs.

So it is vital in the case of cardiac arrest to restore the heart’s rhythm as soon as possible. CPR (Cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is important here, the procedure when you compress the chest in a regular manner to restore spontaneous blood circulation. CPR can keep blood flowing to your heart and brain, but in some cases defibrillation is needed to restore the heart’s normal rhythm and ultimately save the life.

Defibrillators are hugely important devices that help save thousands of lives. They provide a high energy electric shock to the heart through the chest wall of someone who is in cardiac arrest.

Many local communities have installed defibrillators in public places and trained local people in their use.  The manufacturers say a lack of training should not be a deterrent to their use; and if you come across someone who is having a cardiac arrest, the steps are to call 999, start CPR if you can, and then find out if there is a defibrillator nearby.

If there is a defibrillator nearby, once it is opened and positioned by the patient, all you have to do is follow spoken instructions. Many defibrillators also have diagrams or a screen to help people use them. Once positioned, the defibrillator detects the heart’s rhythm and will only deliver a shock if it is needed. Sometimes you need to press the shock button but some defibrillators are fully automatic and will deliver the shock themselves. The defibrillator will instruct you when to resume CPR.

There are various community training courses available, and also some very good online videos to show you what needs to be done:

British Heart Foundation: How to use a defibrillator

BBC News Health

By keeping up to date with procedures, you will feel much more confident in dealing with an emergency,  should it happen.

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