Sudden cardiac arrests occur when the heart abruptly stops beating. When it happens, the brain and the vital organs are deprived of blood that contains oxygen and nutrients.
Most experts believe that cases of sudden cardiac arrests are so unexpected and have very little warning that intervention is almost impossible. If not handled right away, it could consequently lead to biological death.
However, a new study in the United States suggested that if warning signs and symptoms for cardiac arrest were discovered much earlier, the survival odds for patients could significantly improve.
Take Note of Pre-arrest Symptoms
In the U.S., sudden cardiac arrests claim more than 350,000 lives annually.
It's actually worse than a heart attack: CPR can buy critical time to save cardiac arrest patients, but so far, only a few have survived.
The new study, which is published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, found that half the time, sudden cardiac arrest patients experience warning symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath in the four weeks before the arrest occurs.
For nearly all of these patients, the symptoms manifest again in the 24 hours before their heart stops beating.
The problem is that only about one in five people or 20 percent who experience warning signs call for help. Dr. Sumeet Chugh, the study's senior author, said the cases are very perplexing.
When the call to 911 was made, researchers said the survival chances for cardiac arrest patients increased to 32 percent. People who had symptoms but didn't seek emergency medical attention only had a six percent survival rate, they said.
Dr. Clifton Callaway of the University of Pittsburgh, who was not involved in the study, said that this was a reminder for the public not to ignore potential warning signs.
"Chest pain, shortness of breath: Those are things you should come in the middle of the night to the emergency department and get checked out," said Callaway.
Prevention and Prediction
With the findings, Chugh believes a new window of opportunity for cardiac arrest prevention and prediction is opened and for patients, there may be more time to intervene than previously known.
However, one of the challenges that come in assessing pre-arrest symptoms is that most patients die before they even reach the hospital.
Chugh said further research should be done. Little is known about effective and concrete methods to effectively prevent cardiac arrest, unlike prevention methods for diabetes where patients can take protective steps when symptoms and signs first begin to appear.
Still, being able to identify the warning signs is a crucial first step to predict the possible cardiac arrest.
"This is chapter one. We really want to send out the message that there is an opportunity here we never knew existed," said Chugh, adding that if a person experiences the symptoms, they should immediately seek medical help.
Chugh and his research team gathered and analyzed data on 839 sudden cardiac arrest patients in Portland. They looked into details on symptom history which were taken not just from doctors at the hospital, but also from family members, emergency medical workers, and other witnesses.
Most of 839 patients were male and were aged 53 years old on average.
About 430 of the patients had experienced warning symptoms before their heart stopped.
Of these, 54 percent of men and 24 percent of women experienced chest pain. For women, experiencing shortness of breath was more common, with 31 percent of them suffering from it compared to 14 percent of the men. Patients who were older and had had a history of heart disease were also most likely to call 911.
The study's limitations, however, was that it excluded 24 percent of patients because of lack of symptoms. The findings also do not account for patients who were treated successfully for symptoms and avoided cardiac arrest.