Immediately after sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), bystanders will often witness seizure like activity followed by shallow attempts at breathing. What is happening to the SCA victim? Victims often have an hypoxic seizure (tonic phase). This is caused by oxygen deprivation due to ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation. This phase is often mistaken as an epileptic seizure. The seizure like activity is followed by agonal breathing. Agonal breathing is an attempt of the memory of the facial, neck and intercostal muscles making a failed attempt to breath without cerebral (brain) coordination and the diaphragm muscle. Agonal breathing is only gasps – the chest does not rise and fall. the patient’s body is not being oxygenated properly. Bystanders often do nothing because they think the person is breathing.
What should you do? The first thought when you see a young person fall unresponsive is to check for a pulse. After 911 has been called, CPR should be started immediately, and an AED should be obtained. For every minute that passes without the use of an AED/CPR, the victim’s chance of survival decreases by 10%. On average, out to hospital victims have less than a 8% chance of survival.
To view a simulation of a sudden cardiac arrest with agonal respirations, click here.