No one ever wants to be in a situation where they need to use emergency training. But it is becoming an increasing necessity. Cardiac crisis is a real issue, and it frequently leads to fatalities. A recent study found that there are about 350,000 cardiac arrests annually in the US, and 90% of them are fatal.
Cardiac crisis means a patient is either in cardiac arrest or having a heart attack. If you know how to react immediately when the event occurs, you could save a life.
Are you ready to take steps to ensure you’re prepared? Look no further than the Advanced Cardiac Life Support examination, also known as the ACLS certification. The goal of the ACLS certification is to teach students how to save the lives of patients in cardiac distress.
With the ACLS certification, the odds of cardiac recovery increase immensely. But you can start building your knowledge today. Below is a guide containing everything you need to know to handle patients in cardiac crisis.
What Is a Cardiac Crisis?
A cardiac crisis is a severe condition when a patient goes into cardiac arrest or a heart attack. Though often used interchangeably, these two conditions are not the same.
A heart attack occurs when blood flow ceases to reach the heart, and is usually the result of a blocked artery. The artery needs to be cleared to restore blood flow. If it isn’t cleared, the heart muscle will begin to die.
When a heart stops beating due to an electrical issue, it’s considered a sudden cardiac arrest. Then, blood flow to other organs stops, including vital organs and the brain. A sudden cardiac arrest results in death within minutes if left untreated, so early treatment is critical.
What Causes a Cardiac Crisis?
Every person’s body has an electrical system that controls rhythm and heart rate. When the electrical system fails, it may cause an arrhythmia, meaning the heart beats slower or faster than usual and can’t function properly. Or, as described, an arterial blockage occurs, and blood flow to the heart stops.
A patient may have a condition that led to the sudden cardiac event, or may have shown no previous signs.
Conditions That Cause a Cardiac Crisis
When handling a patient, take notice of the conditions and consider potential causes of the cardiac crisis. Several conditions and diseases can cause the heart to malfunction. To treat the patient properly, you’ll need to identify the most likely cause. They can include:
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Strenuous physical activity
- Low minerals, such as magnesium or potassium
- Genetic disorders
- Structural changes in heart
- Heart infections
- Lack of oxygen
- Coronary artery disease
Ventricular fibrillation is a major cardiac arrest contributor, so it’s talked about throughout the ACLS certification. Ventricular fibrillation happens when the heart’s lower chambers fail to beat effectively, lacking blood flow.
Other causes include strenuous physical activity that releases adrenaline, which triggers some heart issues. In addition, structural changes like an advanced heart disease or an enlarged heart can cause cardiac problems. Heart infections can also cause the heart to change its structure.
Coronary artery disease, also discussed in the ACLS certification, occurs when blood cannot be delivered to the heart from a patient’s arteries. Essentially, a buildup of plaque lines the coronary arteries and blocks blood flow. This is the leading cause of heart attacks.
Signs of a Cardiac Crisis
Thankfully, there are warning signs when a patient has a cardiac crisis. In many cases, the patient faints and the heart stops. Other times, the patient may feel dizzy, have an increased heartbeat, gasp for air or display shortness of breath, chest pain, vomiting, or nausea.
It’s important to remember that symptoms can occur within an hour before cardiac arrest. So if a patient doesn’t respond or is showing one or more of these signs, take action.
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
Heart attack symptoms can range from mild to severe. It’s also possible to have zero symptoms.
Signs of a heart attack include:
- Pain, pressure, tightness in the chest
- Pain and/or discomfort in the arm or shoulder
- Mental changes
- Shortness of breath
- Indigestion and/or heartburn
Symptoms can occur weeks, days, or even hours prior to the heart attack, including persistent chest pressure or pain. If someone is visibly having a heart attack but is not yet unconscious, call 911 if you’re not at a hospital and stay with the patient.
Taking Action During a Heart Attack
If you think a patient has a heart attack, gently guide them to the floor while keeping them calm. If the person is wearing tight clothing, loosen or unbutton it.
Next, ask the patient questions about a possible heart condition or any medications they’re taking. For instance, nitroglycerin is often taken to treat heart conditions. If they say yes, instruct them to take their medicine and call 911. Call for help if you are in a hospital setting. However, if the patient is unresponsive, the patient is undergoing cardiac arrest and needs a different protocol.
Overall, the ACLS certification prepares you for emergencies like this situation and how to respond effectively.
What To Do in a Cardiac Arrest
Unfortunately, a sudden cardiac arrest occurs fast and is potentially fatal. While it only takes minutes for a deadly crisis to occur, getting immediate help is critical to maintaining blood flow to essential organs.
If you think someone is suffering a cardiac arrest, use the following guidelines. Remember, every second counts.
First, inspect the scene safely. Then, check for a response. If there’s no response and the patient isn’t breathing, stay calm, start CPR right away, and yell for help. Again, if not in a hospital setting, call 911. If someone’s nearby, ask for a defibrillator.
If you’re alone, call 911 yourself. Proper CPR includes pressing down two inches right in the middle of the chest while starting compressions. Adequate compressions include a rate of 100 to 120 per minute. However, let the chest rise in between until medical personnel arrives with a defibrillator.
If there’s an automated external defibrillator (AED) nearby, you can also use that if you are trained to do so safely. It’s similar to a defibrillator. However, an AED detects abnormal heart arrhythmias and shocks the heart. The AED will prompt directions while waiting for further help.
Preparation is essential, and knowledge is power. Aside from the ACLS examination, knowledge of CPR is the best tool to have at your disposal.
Getting to the Emergency Room
When a critical patient arrives at the emergency room, everyone works hard to treat potential heart attacks or heart failure. Unfortunately, electrolyte imbalances come into play as well, and may cause complications. As a result, sometimes emergency surgery is required.
Some patients are already at the hospital when their cardiac arrest occurs. Around 290,000 cardiac arrests occur in hospitals every year.
Patient Treatment After a Cardiac Crisis
Usually, diagnosis of cardiac issues occurs after the scary emergency is over. After the patient follows up with their medical provider, the doctor may refer them to a cardiologist for additional tests and treatment.
Tests and procedures may include the following:
- Cardiac CT scan
- Cardiac MRI
- Chest x-ray
- Stress test
- Cardiac catheterization
- Coronary angiography
Long-term antiarrhythmic medications are an option to reduce further complications. Other common medications include calcium channel blockers and angiotensin-converting enzymes (also known as ACE inhibitors). Overall, Beta-blockers are often prescribed to try decrease heart risks.
Another permanent solution after healing from a cardiac crisis is an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD). The device monitors the rhythm of a patient’s heart and the world, similar to a pacemaker.
The coronary angioplasty procedure reduces heart arrhythmia risk. First, the surgery opens coronary artery blockages, allowing proper blood flow to the heart. A tube goes through the leg to the blocked heart artery, and a balloon inflates to open the artery. A stent may also help keep the artery open permanently to secure essential blood flow back to the heart.
Coronary Bypass Surgery
Coronary bypass surgery works to improve cardiac blood flow and reduce heartbeat frequency. In addition, the surgery redirects blood vessels to another body part to form a new pathway.
Surgery doesn’t necessarily cure patients of cardiac problems, but it reduces the likelihood of death. Surgery is meant to improve quality of life, including symptoms like shortness of breath and chest pain. Coronary bypass surgery may also improve overall heart function.
Cardiac Patient Prevention
While some heart conditions are hereditary, risk factors are associated with heart health and diseases. When it comes to prevention, lifestyle is a significant component for patients.
Factors that can decrease cardiac arrest and diseases include the following:
- Weight loss if the patient is overweight or obese
- Limiting alcohol
- Quitting smoking or regular drug use
- Eating more heart-healthy food
Additionally, stress is a huge factor in heart health in particular. Combining stress with risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity only increases risk. It’s a great idea for patients to talk to their doctor about their overall health, conditions, risks, and how to prevent a cardiac crisis in the future.
How Can ACLS Certification Help?
The ACLS certification adheres to the American Heart Association’s guidelines. In addition, the ACLS certification obtains credentials from the National Board of Emergency Care Certifications (or the NBECC). The Advanced Cardiac Life Support certifications save lives.
People who receive the ACLS certification work in various settings while brushing up on their skills. There are three different curriculum programs to enhance the learning experience. The programs include the following:
- Non-Hospital ACLS certification
- Pre-Hospital ACLS certification
- Hospital ACLS certification
No matter what ACLS certification program you choose, you can rely on a flexible, online program that you can complete at your own pace.
The ACLS certification program includes the following topics:
- Airway and emergency ventilation
- Ventricular fibrillation
- Pulseless electrical activity
- Acute coronary syndromes
It’s important to stay active and renew the ACLS certification, as it expires after two years. Over a million professionals hold an ACLS certification. Keeping up to date on conditions and how to spot and treat them is a literal lifesaver.
A cardiac event is a terrifying experience for both the patient and the people handling the crisis. However, utilizing skills learned while studying for ACLS certification (as well as CPR) can help save lives when such events happen. While there are many reasons for cardiac arrests and heart attacks, taking action right away is essential for survival.
If a patient is conscious but experiencing symptoms, call 911 or for help, follow protocols, and monitor the patient. When a patient stops breathing while experiencing cardiac arrest, starting CPR right away improves the chance of survival.
After you save the patient’s life, proper testing and treatment from a cardiologist is the next step of the journey. But it’s important to know what to do in the moment so there is a next step to take.