Sudden cardiac arrest and children - everything you need to know

What you need to know about Sudden Cardiac Arrest and children

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or lifestyle. The preconception is generally that SCA only strikes unhealthy or older people, but that’s not the case. There have been many cases of SCA in children – and if fast medical action isn’t taken, it can result in fatal and devastating circumstances.

It’s estimated that nearly 8,000 deaths result from SCA in the young and with the chances of survival dramatically dropping if medical action isn’t taken quickly, it’s important that those working with children know how to act.

Earlier this year saw Prime Minister David Cameron speak out in support of defibrillators in community places, including schools and nurseries. He said: “There is nothing more heart-breaking than losing a child, and everything we can do to help with this we should.”

His words followed after campaigner Leigh Smith raised awareness of the need for defibrillators in schools following the tragic loss of her baby daughter Beatrice to a rare heart condition a year ago. The loss of her three-month old baby girl has prompted her to raise awareness of how important defibrillators are in schools and the need for life-saving skills to be taught to those working with children.

It’s important that if you work with children you know how to act should an SCA occur and how to give appropriate medical care to a child you’re looking after.

What causes SCA?

SCA stands for Sudden Cardiac Arrest, which can affect anyone at any time. It occurs when the heart suffers from an electrical malfunction and is unable to pump blood around the body. When this happens it causes the heart to enter an irregular rhythm known as ventricular fibrillation (VF) or ventricular tachycardia (VT), which causes the victim to be unconscious and without the right treatment they will die.

Over 140,000 people die each year from a SCA, and 70 per cent of these incidents happen outside of hospital. Approximately 30 per cent of these will die before reaching a hospital due to not receiving the vital medical care they need in the short time frame after the incident happens. Every minute is crucial when a SCA happens and without adequate medical attention, the victim’s chance of survival drops.

What should I do if SCA happens?

When someone suffers a SCA, every minute without medical action is crucial and their chances of survival reduce by 10 to 14 per cent. It can be a daunting task to know how to act when someone has an SCA, especially a child in your care; however it’s important to be able to administer medical attention quickly and effectively.

An AED (Automatic External Defibrillator) is the vital piece of equipment you need to use to save someone’s life when they have an SCA. This machine will offer clear instructions either verbally or via instructional pictures to guide you through the process and help you to look after the victim.

When an SCA occurs, follow these steps as part of the key survival chain to ensure the victim has the best chance of survival:

  • Early Access (Call 999)
    Although the combination of CPR and defibrillation is the right treatment for the victim, they will still need attention from medical professionals including oxygen and cardiac drugs. Whilst target ambulance response times stand at eight minutes, it’s important you can look after the victim and offer them the best chance of survival whilst the emergency services make their way to you.
  • Early CPR (Begin resuscitation)
    Beginning the first steps of resuscitation is key to the success of defibrillation, and this works with the use of an AED to restore the heart’s natural rhythm. CPR (Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation) is the combination of rhythmic chest presses and rescue breaths to help restore the heart to its natural state and out of VT or VF.
  • Early Defibrillation (The use of an AED)
    Whilst CPR is effective, it also needs the use of an AED and defibrillation to successfully save a victim’s life.
  • Early Advanced Life Support (Arrival of medical attention)

Once medical attention has arrived, hand over to them to ensure the victim receives all the care they need. Paramedics can administer oxygen or cardiac drugs and take the victim to be further checked over in hospital. With the average ambulance response time standing at eight minutes, this is why it is so important for you to be able to act quickly and begin the right treatment should an SCA occur.

Children and AEDs – what are the appropriate steps?

One of the main fears surrounding an AED is the worry that you might hurt your victim when using one. Whilst this is a common fear, you cannot hurt someone using an AED.

Medically speaking, a victim of SCA is dead as their heart is no longer pumping blood around their body and the combination of an AED and CPR are their only chances of survival. An AED will not work unless the victim is in VT or VF and it can’t detect a natural rhythm so there is no chance it will shock them unless they need it.

An AED can be used on children and infants as well as adults. Many AEDs come with smaller paediatric pads, which are more appropriate for children. However if these aren’t available it’s advised to use normal pads as this might be their only chance of survival.

AEDs are not advised to be used on babies under the age of one but seek medical attention immediately.

Department of Education

Thousands of schools are set to benefit from defibrillators as the Government recognises the importance of this life saving piece of equipment, and the need to train those working with children on how to use them and how to act quickly to save a life.

Whilst first aid training is a requirement in every workplace, it is not a necessary requirement to have a defibrillator on-site – although it is highly advisable, as an SCA can affect anyone at anytime. More and more workplaces are recognising the importance of defibrillators and training staff how to use one should there ever be a need.

Nurseries, schools and other childcare facilities are also keen to embrace this life saving equipment and help to prevent the number of deaths from SCA each year in the young.

When an SCA happens it can be scary and often hard to think of what to do, but it’s important that you should know how to deliver the correct medical care to increase chances of survival and prevent the devastating loss of a life.

Author bio: Niamh Spence is a content writer for defibshop – the largest independent supplier of defibrillators and defibrillator training in the UK. Head to to find out more.


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