Bystander action is vital, Ewy said. "If you call 911 and just stand there, you might as well sign their death certificate," he said.
Action can help even if no abnormal breathing is evident, Ewy said. "If you start early enough and do a good job, some of these people will start gasping," he said.
Dr. Vinay Nadkarni is an associate professor of anesthesia and critical care medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association. "The big message to the lay public is that you can make a difference and save a life," he said. "If they can recognize this breathing pattern as abnormal, all they have to do is call 911 and push hard on the chest."
Gasping is a sign that there's still blood flow to the brain, and the person can be saved even though the heart has stopped, Nadkarni said.
"More and more people now are willing to do CPR," he said. "But there is information that they might not be starting it soon enough. An abnormal, gasping breathing pattern is consistent with cardiac arrest and calls for immediate action."
The American Heart Association describes the signs of cardiac arrest and what should be done when it occurs.
SOURCES: Gordon A. Ewy, M.D., chief, cardiology, University of Arizona, Phoenix; Vinay Nadkarni, M.D., associate professor, anesthesia and critical care medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Nov. 25, 2008, Circulation
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