A cardiac arrest occurs when someone collapses and is unconscious due to their heart stopping suddenly, which also stops the person breathing It is different from a heart attack, but a heart attack may cause a cardiac arrest. Approximately 30 000 Australians will a suffer a cardiac arrest this year, with a survival rate of only 10%.  The majority of cardiac arrests are related to heart disease, but may also be the result of a stroke, caused by heart conditions such as an arrhythmia, thickened heart muscle or heart- valve disorder, or the result of an accident or injury such as electric shock or drug overdose.

The recommended resuscitation procedure is repeated rhythmic chest compressions until an ambulance arrives. Mouth to mouth respirations (rescue breathing) are no longer recommended for resuscitation with exceptions, children, people who drown or who have taken an opioid overdose, in these cases, outcomes improve with the added ventilation in addition to the compressions. The change to hands only resuscitation is based on:

  • In sudden cardiac arrest the blood is fully oxygenated, so circulation will provide oxygen to vital organs
  • Interruption of chest compressions for rescue breathing may reduce efficiency
  • Rescue breathing is distasteful to many bystanders and is often done improperly. It may deter efforts at first aid
  • Hands-only CPR may be easier to teach, particularly for emergency dispatchers over the phone

The best chance of survival for those experiencing a cardiac arrest is effective CPR combined with early defibrillation. A defibrillator delivers measured electric shocks to attempt to restore the heart to normal effective rhythm.

Portable defibrillators can be used by everyone. You do not have to be a trained person. The machine gives voice instructions to tell you exactly what to do. In Australia there is no full record of where defibrillators are located, but they are at most Airports, train stations and some public buildings and sports centres. St John Ambulance First Responder Programme has started to have the location of AEDs registered via their App and through their First Responder programme

In 2005, CPR training became compulsory for all schoolchildren aged over 11 years in Sweden. In the next 6 years, the provision of CPR by members of the public more than doubled and survival from out of Hospital cardiac arrest tripled. In Stockholm, when members of the public started CPR and used a defibrillator before the arrival of an ambulance, 70% of people survived, when resuscitation was delayed until an ambulance arrived, only 30% survived.

If you suspect someone has had a cardiac arrest you must act immediately. Every minute that goes by without treatment reduces survival chance by 10%, after 10 minutes survival is unlikely.

  • Call for help. In Australia call 000 from any phone or 112 on your mobile if normal reception is poor or absent
  • Check for responsiveness, tap the person on their shoulder and ask if they are OK
  • Check for a pulse
  • Begin CPR immediately and continue until an ambulance arrives. The beat of the Bee Gees song 'Stayin' Alive matches the optimum CPR rhythm of 100 chest compressions per minute. The British Heart Foundation produced a clip featuring actor Vinnie Jones teaching how hard and fast  Hands-only CPR  can help save the life of someone who has had a cardiac arrest. ( see YouTube ,   British Heart Foundation Vinnie Jones' hard and fast Hands-only CPR) or at the website for the British heart Foundation cpr video
  • Call for a defibrillator ( AED -  Automatic External Defibrillator) The AED will notify the user when to stop CPR so that the patient can be analysed or shocked

St John Ambulance WA has created a Community First  Responder program, which provides a direct link between St John Ambulance WA, the triple zero call centre, local communities and organisations. The direct link enables individuals to provide immediate assistance to cardiac arrest victims in the critical time before an ambulance arrives.  The first responder is called by the St John Ambulance triple zero call centre following receiving a call from bystanders, the first responder then  carries out CPR and applies the AED if necessary or available until the ambulance  arrives. To become a Community First responder, contact St John ambulance either  9334 1428 or at

The Community First Responder (CFR) system creates a link between St John ambulance WA, local communities and businesses and enables individuals to help cardiac arrest victims . Each CFR location has details/key words related to the location entered on the St John Ambulance system and advises the St John call taker that there is a defibrillator at that location, notifying the CFR of the event and to deploy the defibrillator.

St John has a First Aid App that includes simple resuscitation information, an interactive defibrillator demo and access to St John Ambulance Australia Public Access Defibrillators locations registered.

Two Apps, GoodSam Alerter and GoodSam responder are potentially more widely available, GoodSam Alerter app use location services to track the location of a person in need of help, the GoodSam Responder app sends location updates to the server to allow the location of volunteer first-aiders, doctors to be tracked so they can be notified of any emergencies occurring around them. These apps were developed in London, but are aiming to cover all the larger cities internationally and have registered GoodSam responders in Australia.

For use in Australia  by an  individual in need of urgent help, Emergency+ is a National App developed by Australia's emergency services and Government partners, The App uses the phone location services to provide the emergency call-taker with location information. The app also includes SES and police assistance line numbers as options, so non-emergency calls can be made to the most appropriate number. This App does not have defibrillator links currently

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