Cardiac Arrest

Cardiac arrests and heart attacks are often confused. A cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops beating. There are many causes of a cardiac arrest, and one of these is a heart attack, but they are not the same thing.

A heart attack occurs when an artery within the heart becomes blocked, usually leading to significant chest discomfort. Most of us know people who have had heart attacks and survived. Cardiac arrest, however, is universally fatal unless the heart is restarted. Every second counts.

Cardiac arrest is much more common than many people realise. A cardiac arrest can happen to anyone (of any age), at any time, and in any place.

In the North East, approximately 1,600 people per year receive a resuscitation attempt for a cardiac arrest that has occurred outside of hospital. During an average month in the North East, we can expect sudden cardiac arrest resuscitation across a range of ages:


The numbers increase further for the over 80’s, but as shown by the data, sudden cardiac arrest can and does strike unexpectedly at any age. It does so with devastating consequences for most affected (and their families). Approximately 5% of these people currently survive.

Why are survival rates so low?

Once a cardiac arrest has occurred, brain cells are no longer receiving oxygen and begin to die. Although the rate of brain cell damage/death will vary between individuals, and with specific circumstances, the chances of survival have plummeted after three minutes, if attempts to get oxygen to the brain have not been made.

We are lucky to have one of the leading ambulance services in the UK in its approach to cardiac arrest, but no ambulance service can reach the majority of cardiac arrests within 3 minutes. The average time taken for a vehicle to get to a cardiac arrest is approximately eight minutes. During this time, we can save lives using CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and an AED. 

An AED is a device that can safely deliver an electrical shock to restart the heart, and it can be used by a lay person with little or no prior training.

Only a third of our neighbours and friends who suffer a cardiac arrest this year will receive bystander CPR. Only 2% of people requiring a shock from an AED will receive this before an ambulance can arrive.

Find out more about how we can improve survival rates.