Dealing with cardiac arrest – how resuscitation works

04-06-2021 | Blog article

Resuscitation for cardiac arrest

In the city, at an intersection, at the workplace – medical emergencies occur in public places on a daily basis. That includes cardiac arrest. Drink the last sip of coffee, glance up at the clock, quickly send off an e-mail, and the next moment the heart stops beating. Breathing ceases. All in just a few seconds.

Ventricular fibrillation is life-threatening

Every year, 50,000 people in Germany suffer cardiac arrest. 45,000 of those affected die. Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening, time-critical emergency and a leading cause of death worldwide. In most cases, the cause is ventricular fibrillation, usually triggered by a heart attack. However, there are other triggers, such as poisoning, an acute pulmonary embolism or shock due to massive blood loss. Where ventricular fibrillation is concerned, the natural cardiac rhythm is interrupted, as the heart beats uncontrollably and much too quickly. This means that the ventricles are no longer able to pump blood through the circulatory system. Affected individuals suddenly lose consciousness and stop breathing. Their pupils become unresponsive and their skin turns a pale gray color.

Anyone can save a life

At this point, every second counts. The affected person must receive help as soon as possible, as their organs are no longer being supplied with vital oxygen. Although there is a high chance of an affected person being alone within their own four walls, other people are usually nearby in public places. When they notice an emergency, they call the emergency medical services and wait for them to arrive. However, waiting for professional help to arrive at the emergency site is not enough in the case of a cardiac arrest: By that point, the brain and heart may already be severely damaged and the chances of survival drop from minute to minute. If, on the other hand, a bystander immediately begins with resuscitation measures, the patient’s chances of survival can double or even triple. Unfortunately, far too many people shy away from performing resuscitation in an emergency situation. Their fear of making a mistake and harming the affected person is overwhelming. But apprehension about resuscitation measures has no place in an emergency – and is also entirely unwarranted. After all, it only takes a few steps to save a person’s life:

  1. Check: Speak to the person. If there is no response, lay the person on their back and tilt their head back. Look, listen and feel for breathing, but for no longer than ten seconds.
  2. Call: Make an emergency call (112 in Germany). If possible, activate the telephone’s loudspeaker in order to follow the instructions provided by the control center.
  3. Compress: Perform chest compressions and ventilation (30x compression, 2x ventilation) until the emergency medical services arrive.
First responder resuscitates person with cardiac arrest
First responder resuscitates person with cardiac arrest

Chest compressions and ventilation simply explained

Until the emergency medical services arrive, everything depends entirely on the first responders. In the best-case scenario, there is an AED (automated external defibrillator) in the vicinity that can be fetched by one of the first responders. If you are on your own, please do not leave the patient and instead start with chest compressions. You have no idea what to do? The following five steps will equip you to face an emergency*:

  1. Kneel down beside the patient.
  2. Place the ball of one of your hands in the middle of the patient’s chest and the ball of the other hand on top of the first hand and interlace your fingers. Straighten your arms.
  3. Bring your shoulders vertically above the patient’s chest and press down at least five – but no more than six – centimeters.
  4. After each compression, release the pressure on the chest, without removing your hands.
  5. After 30 compressions, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation twice. If you do not consider yourself to be capable of performing ventilation, carry out compressions at a frequency of 100-120/min. To perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, open the patient’s mouth, firmly place your lips around their mouth and simultaneously blow into the mouth. Repeat this one more time. Each round of resuscitation should last no longer than ten seconds.

Repeat these steps until the emergency medical services arrive and are able to take over. If an AED is available, follow the instructions on the device. This device was specially developed for people who have no medical training. With the help of voice prompts, the defibrillator performs resuscitation and helps to end the life-threating ventricular fibrillation. The defibrillator delivers electrode shocks via electrodes on the patient’s chest, thus restoring their natural cardiac rhythm. Please do not be afraid of making a mistake. Doing anything is better than doing nothing! Anyone can suffer a sudden cardiovascular arrest. In any place and at any time. And, equally, anyone can help to ensure that people suffering from one do not die, but survive.


*Other cardiopulmonary resuscitation measures are advised for infants and children