Cardiac Arrest: What Happens within the First 10 Minutes


Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) is one of the leading causes of death in the USA, with approximately 366,000 SCA mortalities happening each year. Without immediate treatment, 90-95% of SCA victims will die, and for each minute that passes where a victim doesn’t receive treatment, their chance of survival decreases by 10%.

Timeline of a Cardiac Arrest

You only have a short period of time to act when somebody suffers a sudden cardiac arrest. Here’s what you can expect to happen:


Minute 1 (0-60 seconds)

The first thing that will happen when somebody suffers an SCA is that they will collapse.

Your immediate response should be to check their responses to see if they are still breathing. If there are no signs that the person is breathing, they might have suffered an SCA.

Call the emergency services on 911. The operator will give you step-by-step instructions on how to perform CPR.

You should then begin to perform CPR.

Minute 2 (61-120 seconds)

When a person suffers an SCA, their heart goes into ventricular fibrillation and, as a result, it no longer pumps blood around the body, causing essential organs to shut down. Early defibrillation is essential in saving the person’s life, and the earlier an AED (automated external defibrillator) is located and then used, the higher the chances of survival.

Without treatment during the first 60 seconds, the victim’s chance of survival will have reduced by 10%.

Once the AED’s pads are placed correctly on the victim’s chest, the AED will analyze the victim’s heart rate and then deliver a shock if one is needed. The AED will also tell the user when to continue performing CPR.

Minute 3 (121-180 seconds)

Without treatment by this point, the victim’s chance of survival will have decreased by another 10%.

Minutes 4 and 5 (181-300 seconds)

Using an AED in this window of time – alongside effective CPR, of course – will boost the victim’s chance of survival from 6% to 74%.

Minute 6 (301-360 seconds)

At this point, tissue-death of the heart muscle and the brain will occur if no proper treatment is provided. The victim’s chance of survival will have now been reduced to between 40 and 60%.

Minutes 7 and 8 (361-480 seconds)

If the victim does not receive proper treatment by this point, their chance of survival will now reduce to between 30 and 20%.

Minutes 9 and 10 (481-600 seconds)

During this time, you should continue to use the AED and perform CPR until the EMS arrives. Without proper treatment by this point, the victim’s chance of survival will be just 10%.

When you are a bystander to a sudden cardiac arrest, you have minutes to save the person’s life and every single second counts.

Ensure that you have quick and easy access to a life-saving AED. If you don’t, it’s time to invest in the safety of everybody.

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