That’s according to a study published online Monday in the journal Circulation. Study co-author Thomas Rea of King County’s emergency services division said the survey came about because of an observation that bystanders were not performing CPR as frequently as they could have. “There's reticence and fear on the part of the bystander — and the dispatcher — that they may cause injury to the victim,” Rea said in an interview.
Researchers from the University of Washington and King County emergency services examined 1,700 calls made between June 2004 and January 2007 in which an emergency dispatcher directed a caller on how to perform CPR over the phone. Of those 1,700 incidents, more than half (938) of the subjects were determined to be in cardiac arrest – so those first clumsy chest compressions may have helped sustain the patient until paramedics arrived. The other 762 were found to not be in arrest at the time. For the 247 who weren't actually in cardiac arrest but did, for some reason, receive chest compressions, 12% (29 people) "experienced discomfort," and 2% (six people) were injured, possibly as a result of the well meaning bystander's ministrations. Five people sustained fractures, but nothing more serious than that.
In that time period, there were likely a total of about 4,000 calls relating to possible cardiac arrest, Rea said.
So given the potential for saving lives, if you think someone is in arrest, amateur CPR is worth the rare possibility of a cracked rib. But if you want to make sure you know the symptoms of a heart attack, the American Heart Assn. gives a helpful primer. If you want to read up on how to perform CPR, just in case, click here.
-- Amina Khan
Photo credit: John M. Glionna / Los Angeles Times