Debunking Heart Disease Myths

A doctor explains potential heart disease to a patient.

Among others, one of the primary reasons bystanders don’t act during a cardiac emergency is a lack of knowledge, and, unfortunately, there’s no shortage of incorrect information about heart disease out there. Knowing all the facts is paramount to getting victims of both cardiac arrest and heart attacks the appropriate care.

Myth #1: Sudden Cardiac Arrest and Heart Attacks Are the Same Thing

Contrary to their popular interchangeable use, cardiac arrest and heart attacks are not the same thing. Cardiac arrest occurs when a disruption in the heart’s regular rhythm creates an irregular heartbeat, stopping the heart entirely and causing blood flow to cease. During cardiac arrest, the victim stops breathing and loses consciousness quickly, which is why timely CPR and AED use is necessary.

Heart attacks, on the other hand, are commonly caused by plaque buildup in the coronary arteries or a blood clot, causing problems with the heart’s normal blood flow. Blood flow is impeded but still reaches the brain, so the victim normally remains conscious, meaning CPR isn’t necessary unless the victim passes out.

Myth #2: You Can Be Sued for Trying to Help a Victim of Cardiac Arrest

Another common reason bystanders hesitate to provide CPR is because they fear legal repercussions from breaking a rib or cracking the sternum. Good Samaritan laws exist to protect bystanders who help victims during an emergency. All 50 United States have Good Samaritan laws that typically cover bystanders under three standard conditions, though there may be regional differences in the minutiae of the laws:

  • The bystander provided care because of an emergency
  • The bystander providing care did not cause the emergency
  • The bystander acted in good faith and was not grossly negligent or reckless when providing care

So, yes, while you could be sued, it’s highly unlikely the case would go anywhere.

Myth #3: Sudden Cardiac Arrest Only Affect the Elderly

While the average age for victims of sudden cardiac arrest is 60, cardiac arrest can affect people of any age—according to the CDC, 2,000 Americans under 25 die of sudden cardiac arrest each year. SCA can strike at any age, which is why it’s so important to know your family history and other risk factors.

Myth #4: “Cough CPR” Can Save Your Life

Longtime internet myth: by coughing violently during a heart attack, you can keep blood pumping to your heart and keep yourself conscious. The incorrect assumption that heart attacks and cardiac arrest are the same thing is partially to blame for this misinformation. During a heart attack, the heart continues beating and the victim often remains conscious, meaning CPR isn’t necessary; instead, the priority should be calling 911 for emergency assistance.

So-called “proof” for the effectiveness of “cough CPR” comes primarily from clinical settings in which patients were told to cough to correct heart arrythmias. However, as cardiologist and professor Matthew Sorrentino, MD, explains, most disruptions in the heart’s rhythm, especially those which would lead to cardiac arrest, are too complex to be solved by coughing.

When it comes to responding to a cardiac emergency, CPR and AED training are two of the best tools to have in your belt. Schedule a class today with Specialized Health and Safety and learn how to save a life.