Of the 250 000 patients who undergo major cardiac operations in the United States annually, 0.7% to 2.9% will experience a postoperative cardiac arrest. Although Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) is the standard approach to management of cardiac arrest in the United States, it has significant limitations in these patients. The European Resuscitation Council (ERC) has endorsed a new guideline specific to resuscitation after cardiac surgery that advises important, evidence-based deviations from ACLS and is under consideration in the United States. The ACLS and ERC recommendations for resuscitation of these patients are contrasted on the basis of the essential components of care. Key to this approach is the rapid elimination of reversible causes of arrest, followed by either defibrillation or pacing (as appropriate) before external cardiac compressions that can damage the sternotomy, cautious use of epinephrine owing to potential rebound hypertension, and prompt resternotomy (within 5 minutes) to promote optimal cerebral perfusion with internal massage, if prior interventions are unsuccessful. These techniques are relatively simple, reproducible, and easily mastered in Cardiac Surgical Unit–Advanced Life Support courses. Resuscitation of patients after heart surgery presents a unique opportunity to achieve high survival rates with key modifications to ACLS that warrant adoption in the United States.

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