CPR First Aid

What to do first during a cardiac arrest

What To Do First During A Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening emergency that may happen suddenly and often without warning. Knowing what first aid response to do may be helpful to save a patient’s life. The first aid treatment may be performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or using a defibrillator. Since each method has its first aid steps, it may be essential to know which one to do first. Let’s look at each option and see if either is more life-saving than the other.

What is Cardiac Arrest?

Cardiac arrest occurs when a malfunctioned heart suddenly stops pumping blood around the body. When this happens, a person may lose his/her heartbeat, breathing, and consciousness. It may also lead to his/her disability or death.

What is a Heart Attack?

Heart attack (also called myocardial infarction) occurs when an artery is blocked which may lead to the heart getting insufficient oxygen. This may cause the heart to be damaged and eventually die. When this happens, a person may feel chest discomfort or pain that may last for several minutes or come and go. It may spread to the arms, neck, jaw, or back, according to the Heart Foundation Organization Australia.

Is Cardiac Arrest the Same as Heart Attack?

No. In cardiac arrest, the heart stops beating suddenly while in a heart attack, only a section of the heart starts to die when blood flow is blocked. People may be confused with these two terms, but they are not synonymous.

What is the First Aid Response to Cardiac Arrest?

Fortunately, cardiac arrest may be acted upon immediately with two different life-saving options. First aid for cardiac arrest may be performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or using a defibrillator.

What is CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation)?

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is a first aid response to someone whose breathing or heartbeat has stopped. Both of these may occur in a cardiac arrest.

How is Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) Done?

Performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) may be done by following the first aid steps below:

  1. Follow DRSABCD.
  2. Have the person sit or lie in a comfortable position.
  3. Ask the person to explain their symptoms.
  4. If symptoms are severe, continue to develop, or last for more than 10 minutes an ambulance. Follow the advice of the operator until medical assistance arrives.
  5. Loosen any restricting clothing.
  6. Check that the person does not have an aspirin allergy and is allowed to take aspirin. If it is safe for them to take, provide the casualty with one aspirin tablet (300mg).
  7. Reassure the person until the ambulance arrives.
  8. Monitor and record symptom development.

If the person is unconscious or is falling into unconsciousness:

  1. Place the person into the recovery position.
  2. Follow DRSABCD.
  3. Call 000 for immediate medical assistance.

The above-mentioned CPR steps may be done for adults and older children. There is a different technique when performing it on babies and young children (0-5 years). This life-saving first aid management skill for all ages may be learned by enrolling in first aid courses in Modbury.

When Should Performing CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) be Done?

The Better Health Channel listed the below situations when performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) may be done immediately:

  • When a person is unconscious.
  • When a person is not breathing normally (he/she may be grunting, snorting, or taking gasping breaths).
  • When a person is not breathing at all.

It is advised to call 000 for emergency help.

What is a Defibrillator?

A defibrillator is a medical device used to send electric shocks to the heart so it returns to its normal rhythm.

What are the Types of Defibrillators?

The different types of defibrillators are:

  • Automated External Defibrillator (AED) – a portable device that is more commonly used by people at home, in public places, and the workplace.
  • Advanced Life Support Defibrillator – is used by medical professionals and is found in hospitals and emergency medical transport vehicles.
  • Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICDs) – is surgically inserted into a patient’s chest by a doctor, health, or medical professional. This surgery is performed on people who are at a high risk of having a cardiac arrest. 
  • A wearable defibrillator – is a vest-like device that may be worn by people at high risk of having a cardiac arrest but are not candidates for an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).

How to use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?

The Automated External Defibrillator (AED) is the type that may be commonly used and accessible to the general public. Below are the first aid steps in using one:

  1. Retrieve the Automated External Defibrillator (AED) by opening its case and turning it on.
  2. Expose the person’s chest. Dry if it’s wet and/or removes medication patches.
  3. Open the AED pads by peeling off the backing and checking for a pacemaker or internal defibrillator.
  4. Apply one pad to the upper right chest above the breast and the other to the lower left chest below the armpit.
  5. Check if the wires are attached to the AED box.
  6. Move away from the person. Stop CPR and clear the person by informing others not to touch them.
  7. Let AED analyze the rhythm.
  8. If the AED message shows “Check Electrodes,” then:
  • Ensure that electrodes make good contact.
  • Pull off the pad and replace it if the chest is hairy.
  1. If the AED message shows “Shock,”
  • Clear the person by making sure no one is touching them.
  • Press and hold the “shock” button until the AED delivers the shock 
  1. Resume CPR for two minutes starting with chest compressions.
  2. Repeat steps 1-10.

When to Use an Automated External Defibrillator (AED)?

A person experiencing cardiac arrest may show the below symptoms. When these happen, use of an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) may be done:

  • When a person collapses.
  • When a person is unresponsive.
  • When a person is not breathing.

Calling 000 is also advised.

Which May be Done First: Performing CPR or Using a Defibrillator?

As mentioned above, both are first aid responses to cardiac arrest. But, which of these may be done first?

When to Perform CPR first?

If someone has a cardiac arrest and there is no immediate access to a defibrillator, performing CPR may be done if a certified first aider is nearby. He/She is someone who has gone through a first aid course in Modbury and has acquired a certification to respond to emergencies like cardiac arrest.

When to Use a Defibrillator first?

If a defibrillator is available, using it may be done first. Doing so makes it possible for the heart to return to its normal rhythm by delivering the needed shock even before it stops. Correct usage of a defibrillator is also a part of first aid training offered by accredited providers in Modbury.

What if Both First Aid Responses are Available?

In some instances, a first aider and a defibrillator may both be available. When this happens, performing CPR may be done first. This may be a quicker first aid response to cardiac arrest than using a defibrillator. As mentioned above, the first step in using an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) involves:

  • Retrieving the AED.
  • Opening its case.
  • Turning it on.

This first step alone may take a minimum of 1 minute, whereas CPR may be administered to a patient as soon as possible.


Performing CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and using a defibrillator are both first aid treatments for cardiac arrest. Deciding which of them may be done first depends on the situation and the availability of a first aider or defibrillator. It may be helpful if someone in the family, group, or workplace knows how to perform CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) or use a defibrillator so there may be a higher chance for a cardiac arrest patient to survive. They may enrol in first aid courses in Modbury to acquire these life-saving skills and be certified. Purchasing an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) may also be considered.

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