Cardiac arrest during pregnancy is on the rise. A study found that one in every 12,000 pregnant women admitted for delivery in the U.S. experiences sudden cardiac arrest (SCA)—and that number doesn’t even account for the women who have a cardiac arrest incident outside the hospital. This raises a very important question: Can you use an AED on a pregnant woman?
An AED, or automated external defibrillator, uses controlled electric shocks to restore normal heart function when a person falls victim to cardiac arrest. But can those shocks endanger the pregnancy or further jeopardize the mother’s health?
Why More Pregnant Women Are Experiencing Cardiac Arrest
Women are giving birth later in life than their mothers and grandmothers. Studies show that birth rates are declining among women in their 20s and increasing among women in their 30s and 40s. As women get older, they’re more at risk for cardiac conditions and pregnancy-related cardiac complications.
In addition, conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, and high cholesterol are on the rise in women, and all of these conditions can present elevated cardiovascular complications.
Maternal cardiac arrest is most commonly caused by heart failure, bleeding, sepsis, and amniotic fluid embolism. About six in 10 pregnant women survive an in-hospital cardiac arrest because they receive immediate treatment from trained medical personnel. But what happens if the event occurs outside the hospital and emergency services aren’t immediately available?
Is it Safe to Perform CPR on a Pregnant Woman?
It is generally safe to perform CPR on a pregnant woman. In 2015, the American Heart Association published a set of comprehensive recommendations for treating cardiac arrest during pregnancy. The complete guidelines were published in the AHA’s journal Circulation.
According to the AHA, CPR and defibrillation are both safe for pregnant women and should always be performed in a cardiac arrest situation. The steps for resuscitation are almost identical to those recommended for a non-pregnant patient, with just very minor modifications.
Can an AED Be Used on a Pregnant Woman?
The AHA recommends using an AED on a pregnant woman who experiences cardiac arrest. The baby will not be harmed by the defibrillator shocks, but it will only survive if the mother’s heart is restarted.
Electric shocks are only delivered by the defibrillator if a shockable heart rhythm is detected. The electricity is delivered straight to the heart and does not endanger any other systems or organisms living in the body. If the shocks are successful, the heart resumes normal function and is once again able to deliver blood to those systems on which the baby relies for nourishment and growth.
How to Resuscitate a Pregnant Woman
If a pregnant woman is experiencing cardiac arrest (indicated by sudden unconsciousness with no breathing or pulse), the first step is to call 911. Make sure to tell the dispatcher that the patient is pregnant. They’ll be able to alert emergency services of the situation and ensure that you receive the right personnel. They’ll also be able to ensure that the patient is routed to a hospital that can perform an emergency C-section if required.
If you have an automated external defibrillator (AED) nearby, get it. Look for green lights or other visual indicators that the AED is emergency-ready. Then turn it on and follow the audible and visual prompts. The AED should guide you through CPR, pad placement, and defibrillation. You will only be prompted to press the “Shock” button if the device finds a shockable heart rhythm, so you don’t have to worry about endangering the patient.
If you don’t have an AED available, you’ll just need to perform CPR on the patient until emergency services arrive. If you have basic CPR training, you can alternate between cycles of 30 chest compressions and two rescue breaths. If you don’t have experience with rescue breathing, just focus on chest compressions. You’ll want to push down firmly on the center of the chest at a rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute (you can follow the beat of Stayin’ Alive).
If the patient regains consciousness, place her on her left side in order to improve blood flow to the heart and to the baby.
Preventing Cardiac Arrest When You’re Pregnant
If you’re reading this because you’re currently pregnant and have a chronic health condition that elevates your cardiac arrest risk, there are steps you can take to keep your risk to a minimum.
- Work with a high-risk pregnancy specialist; you should have regular appointments with an obstetric medicine specialist who monitors your blood pressure, blood sugar, and other risk factors.
- Maintain a healthy diet during pregnancy and take steps to keep your stress under control.
- If you notice any chest pain, blood pressure spikes, or other complications, speak to your doctor at once.
Finally, consider investing in an AED for the home, and make sure that everyone in your household understands how to use it. If you do experience cardiac arrest outside the hospital, every second matters. The faster you get treated, the better the prognosis for you and your baby.
We recommend the Defibtech Lifeline VIEW for expecting mothers and their families.
- This intuitive portable defibrillator is equipped with vibrant video demonstration and calm voice coaching to guide the user through both CPR and defibrillation.
- The built-in CPR metronome ensures perfect chest compressions
- The Real Time Protocol Selection feature modifies the coaching based on the user’s experience level.
- The Lifeline VIEW has received some of the industry’s top awards, including the International Design Excellence Award, the Spark International Design Award, and the Medical Design Excellence Award (MDEA).
Whether you’re looking to minimize your own risk during pregnancy or potentially save the life of someone else, the AED should be your first line of defense. It’s safe to use, and it just might save two lives instead of one.