Cardiac Arrests – What You Need to Know

An estimated 24,373 Australians suffer an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest every year – approximately 67 Australians every single day – with 75% of cardiac arrests occurring in a private residence and 14% occurring in public places.

Earlier this year Monash University reported on a new study which revealed that almost 60% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) patients do not receive bystander CPR even though it can more than double survival rates. The study also reported that only 12% of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients survive to hospital discharge and this rate drops to less than 10% in some parts of Australia. This compares poorly to international survival rates – i.e. the survival rate is more than 50% in Seattle, USA.  

Therefore, it places great importance on family members and neighbours to understand what to do in an emergency, so they can step in and increase the chance of survival. The following graph shows the proportion of men and women who suffer an OHCA in Australia.

What is a cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is the term given to the sudden loss of heart function. The heart is no longer pumping blood around to the vital organs of the body, most especially the brain. The signs of a cardiac arrest include sudden collapse, no pulse, no breathing, and loss of consciousness. There are other signs and symptoms which may occur before a sudden cardiac arrest, such as fatigue, fainting, blackouts, dizziness, chest pain, shortness of breath, weakness, palpitations or vomiting. 

However, it is important to note that sudden cardiac arrest often occurs with no warning.

The first 5 minutes after a person has a cardiac arrest are the most critical. For every minute that passes, the chance of survival decreases by around 10%.

The role of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).

It is sad to note that, of the 6,434-bystander witnessed OHCA events in Victoria in 2017-18, only 1% received early defibrillation. 

Studies have found that early cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation within the first 8-10 minutes can increase the chance of survival by up to 75 per cent. A fifteen-year study in the United Kingdom which looked at the effectiveness of AED use by untrained people found that persons had a 92% chance of surviving a cardiac arrest if CPR and defibrillation was commenced within 2.5 minutes of collapse. That is simply remarkable.

An AED is a small, portable device designed to deliver a controlled electrical shock to a person experiencing certain cardiac arrhythmias. AEDs must be used in conjunction with CPR. AEDs have been designed to be used by the general community without formal training and are equipped with verbal and visual instructions to guide the operator.

The Chain of Survival.

This concept describes the critical steps in saving a life and it has been internationally recognised as greatly increasing a person’s chances of surviving an out of hospital cardiac arrest. The great news is that the first four can be done by the person who witnesses the event. Why not put up a picture of this in your home, sporting venue and workplace?

Just for a bit of fun, one company decided to put together a list of suitable songs to assist with getting the right tempo/ pace when practicing CPR. Here is their playlist: CPR Songs: Greatest Hits To Save Lives.

Finally, here’s some ideas for a top 5 list of goals to become a Community Lifesaver and improve the chances of your family friends surviving an OHCA.

GOAL #1: Become First Aid Certified

GOAL #2: Get your CPR and AED Certification

GOAL #3: Encourage your friends & colleagues to become First Aid & CPR Certified

GOAL #4: Invest in a good quality first aid kit for home, car and sport

GOAL #5: Start a fundraiser for a Community AED


Dr Kylie Dyson. (2019). Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry. 2017-2018 Annual Report.

Rea, T., Song, K., and Myat, A. (2018). Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest: current concepts. The Lancet. 391(10124), 911-998. 

Wong C. X, Brown, A., Lau, D. H., Chugh, S. S., Albert, C. M., Kalman, J. M., and Sanders, P. (2019) Epidemiology of Sudden Cardiac Death: Global and Regional Perspectives. Heart, Lung and Circulation. 28:6-14.

Andre, A.D., Jorgenson, D.B., Froman, J.A., Snyder, D.E., and Poole, J.E. (2004). Automated external defibrillator use by untrained bystanders: can the public-use model work? Prehospital Emergency Care. 8(3):284-91.Stærk, M., Bødtker, H., Lauridsen, K.G., and Løfgren, B. (2017). Automated external defibrillation training on the left or the right side – a randomized simulation study. Emergency Medicine. 14(9):73-9.