Cardiac arrest claims about 350,000 U.S. lives a year. It's not a heart attack, but worse: The heart abruptly stops beating, its electrical activity knocked out of rhythm. CPR can buy critical time, but so few patients survive that it's been hard to tell if the longtime medical belief is correct that it's a strike with little or no advance warning.
About half of middle-aged patients for whom symptom information could be found had experienced warning signs, mostly chest pain or shortness of breath, in the month before suffering a cardiac arrest, researchers reported Monday. The research offers the possibility of one day preventing some cardiac arrests if doctors could figure out how to find and treat the people most at risk.
Importantly, a fraction of patients considered their symptoms bad enough to call 911 before they collapsed, and they were most likely to survive.
"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, who chairs the American Heart Association's emergency care committee. "We strongly recommend you don't try to ride it out at home."
The Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study examined records for nearly 1,100 people ages 35 to 65 who suffered a cardiac arrest between 2002 and 2012.
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.
- Dr. Clifton Callaway
But of the remaining 839 patients, half had evidence of at least one symptom in the previous month, the study found. For most, the symptoms began within 24 hours of their collapse, although some came a week before and a few up to a month. Chest pain was most common in men, while women were more likely to experience shortness of breath. Other symptoms included fainting and heart palpitations.
Stay tuned: The study is just the start of more research to better predict who is at highest risk for cardiac arrest, and determine how to target them without panicking people who'd do fine with general heart disease treatment, Chugh cautioned.