Chest compressions alone slightly increase heart-attack survival

Thursday, June 17, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 5:02 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

The American Heart Association says 911 callers unfamiliar with CPR should be instructed to use only chest compressions when dealing with heart-attack victims. The AHA came to that determination after two major studies indicated that doing only chest compressions slightly increases survival rate among heart-attack victims.

The University of Washington’s study conducted from 1992 to 1999 surveyed the difference between cardiac-arrest patients who were treated with chest compressions only and those who had received chest compressions and mouth-to-mouth. The UW researchers discovered that 14.6 percent of those who received only compressions survived, while 10.4 percent of those who received both survived. The second study, from the University of Arizona, Tucson, showed that pigs had higher survival rates when receiving chest compressions only.

The argument behind this issue involves several factors. The first is the fact that when the heart stops beating, the body is still filled with oxygen-rich blood. The chest compressions effectively circulate that blood. The second is that untrained 911 callers can be more easily instructed on how to do chest compressions as opposed to mouth-to-mouth, which is more difficult.

In Columbia, Emergency Medical Dispatchers subscribe to a national organization for emergency procedures and continue to provide instruction for mouth-to-mouth and chest compressions.

“We currently use the Medical Priority Dispatch Protocol from the National Academy of Emergency Dispatch — it’s created by medical professionals based on statistics,” said Joe Piper, Administrative Services Coordinator for Joint Communications for Columbia/Boone County.

The NAED is one of many organizations that provide protocols for EMDs and the Columbia/Boone County area is up to their most recent standards.

“We currently do provide instructions to provide rescue breaths and chest compressions,” Piper said. “We’ve had conversations about this. When they change, we will change.”

A requirement from the NAED is that each city has its own medical director in its area, making sure that the protocol is appropriate to that area. The EMDs in the area work with a computer system approved by the NAED.

“It’s called PRO-QA (software by Priority Dispatch Inc.). It takes you through and gives you questions regarding the situation, first through a primary survey then a secondary survey,” Piper said. “It helps gather good information and provide medically sound instructions to a caller. It’s really a neat program.”

AHA is encouraging EMDs throughout the nation to adopt the new policy of instructing 911 callers to only give chest compressions in cases of cardiac arrest without attempting mouth-to-mouth.

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