Picture this: you’re in a restaurant with a friend; he’s been complaining of a squeezing feeling in his chest, has been feeling short of breath and he’s starting to sweat. Suddenly, he collapses with a major pain in his chest. He’s having a heart attack! What do you do? Mouth-to-mouth, right? Wrong!
A recent study out of Japan has proven that giving the traditional mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a heart attack victim could actually increase the risk of brain damage, compared to giving chest compressions alone.
“Cardiopulmonary resuscitation” (CPR) is the standard method of emergency treatment for sudden heart attack victims. It involves a prescribed combination of mouth-to- mouth, or rescue breathing, and chest compressions. These are performed to help the body keep going, by stimulating blood and oxygen flow to the brain and heart, until professional medical help can be given.
However, Japanese researchers have now given us cause to question this longstanding rescue method. The research team checked out the data on 4,068 adults who had suffered heart attacks outside of the hospital — all attacks studied were witnessed by bystanders.
Upon their arrival, the paramedics recorded information on whether any bystander(s) had performed CPR on each victim and the specific methods used. The researchers then followed up with the patients 30 days after they had suffered the heart attack to check on their condition.
Out of all the sudden heart attack sufferers, 2,917 did not receive any type of CPR treatment from bystanders, while 439 were given only chest compressions and 712 received the full CPR treatment. Upon follow-up, the researchers found that either form of emergency treatment was beneficial.
Only eight percent of patients who went into cardiac arrest and who were not resuscitated by bystanders came out of the ordeal without brain damage. Meanwhile, 11% of heart attack victims who received the full CPR treatment, including mouth-to-mouth, had a positive outcome, compared to 19% of people who received just the chest compressions.
This means that any type of intervention is better than nothing, but that combining rescue breathing with chest compressions could be decreasing a heart attack victim’s chance of survival without brain damage, compared to just performing chest compressions.
It’s thought that performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation interrupts the greater benefit of the chest compressions — when you’re dealing with a cardiac emergency, every second counts.
When you take time to perform rescue breathing, you’re no longer pressing on the chest and forcing blood towards the heart and brain. The longer the brain is left without oxygen, the more of a chance that there will be brain damage, which in turn increases the risk for fatality.
This does not mean that mouth-to-mouth resuscitation has no place in first aid — it can be crucial for victims of drowning, drug overdose, or when a person’s heart has stopped beating for a longer period of time (i.e. a few minutes). You should also note that the use of mouth-to- mouth resuscitation alone was not looked at in terms of providing benefit to cardiac arrest sufferers.
We should all learn CPR and other first aid techniques. It increases everyone’s chances of surviving a potentially fatal event. If you can learn to recognize the signs of heart attack and provide immediate CPR, you could save someone’s life.
Perhaps these findings will encourage more bystanders to help out in cases of heart attack, in the crucial moments before the emergency personnel can get there. It seems silly, but it is true that reluctance to place one’s mouth on that of a stranger can often play a role in the absence of CPR being performed at all.
Now that we all know that mouth-to-mouth could do more harm than good for many heart attack victims, let’s hope that more people will step up in an emergency situation to increase the chances of survival for sudden heart attack sufferers.