Defibrillation: Why CPR is Not Enough

by Jodee on March 23, 2009

CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is a way to keep blood flowing to the brain and other organs in a person who is in cardiac arrest. Doing so promptly may help to prolong the patient’s life and prevent brain damage from lack of oxygen, but it may not be effective in restoring a pulse. For that, you will need to use a defibrillation machine.

An external defibrillator is a device used to start the heart after it stops beating. It can also be used in a situation where the heart is pumping too quickly and the patient doesn’t have a pulse. The person’s heart may stop beating because its electrical system is not conducting the signals necessary to contract properly. In a situation where the impulses are simply shivering all over the heart, it doesn’t contract strongly enough to produce a pulse.

The defibrillator sends an electric shock that stops the heart temporarily. This only lasts for a moment, with the hope that when the next signal to the heart to start beating will be delivered normally.


Using a defibrillator may not get the patient’s heart to start again, but using one early greatly increases the survival rate for people in cardiac arrest, such as those who have had a heart attack.

If a person goes into cardiac arrest outside of a hospital, their chance of survival is only five percent. However, if that individual is treated using a defibrillator quickly, their chance of surviving the incident goes up to 70 percent. The accent here is on the word quickly: every minute that passes without the person being treated with a defibrillator means that their chance of survival decreases by 10 percent.

This treatment strategy is most successful when performed within five minutes of the start of cardiac arrest. In an emergency where no pulse is detected, start CPR as soon as possible, but make sure that someone calls 9-1-1 or the local emergency number as well. Getting medical personnel who have access to a defibrillator to the scene right away can make the difference between life and death.

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