Cardiac arrest early signs are frequently disregarded, dooming patients to an early grave due to a condition which detected on time could actually be reversible.
This was the conclusion of a study published online on Monday, December 28, in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Research was conducted by a team of scientists led by Dr. Sumeet Chugh, director of the Arrhythmia Research Program and Laboratory at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
As part of the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, data pertaining to approximately 1,100 people was analyzed. The participants, aged 35 to 65, had all experienced cardiac arrest sometime between 2002 and 2012.
When reviewing medical records, researchers were unable to determine if around a quarter of the patients had exhibited any symptoms signalling an impending cardiac arrest.
On the other hand, the other 839 subjects had all shown at least one perturbation in the hours, days and even weeks before this often-fatal medical emergency.
Cardiac arrest occurs when the heart is no longer able to contract and pump blood through the body, leaving it deprived of vital oxygen and glucose.
This results in loss of consciousness, and if the heart stops for over 5 minutes, brain damage is often so extensive that it causes the individual’s death.
In fact, more than 90% of the patients die following this disruption of their body functions, in the U.S. around 350,000 people succumbing to this condition, which accounts for over half of all the deaths associated with heart disease.
There are however signs that can be identified prior to the debut of this condition. They normally include difficulty breathing, chest discomfort, heart rhythm disorders (palpitations), nausea, vomiting, back aches, fatigue, vertigo, fainting and abdominal pain.
When experts carried out their study, they discovered that around half of all the male participants and 53% of all the women included in the analysis had shown such symptoms even several weeks before suffering a cardiac arrest.
The most frequently encountered sign among women was breathlessness (dyspnea), while among men the most prevalent symptom was chest pain (angina).
In around 90% of the cases, these warning manifestations occurred around 24 hours before the subject’s heart stopped; however, less than a fifth of the patients believed the symptoms warranted the attention of a physician and actually called an ambulance.
Most of those who were more vigilant had experienced such sensations before, or had been aware of their underlying heart issues.
Those who took their own body’s warning seriously were 5 times more likely to survive: approximately a third of them managed to make it out alive, while just 6% of those who didn’t receive emergency care were able to pull through.
One of the reasons for this disparity was the fact that patients who had called 911 in the early stages had their heart stop while in the ambulance, where more effective and prompt treatment could be administered.
In the event of a cardiac arrest, an automated external defibrillator (AED) is used so as to assist the heart in resuming its normal contractions, and CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) is also essential, in order to keep the blood flowing through the body.
Patients who benefited from such assistance straight away had much higher chances of making a full recovery, in contrast with those who received medical care with delay.
Therefore, as study authors emphasize, it is essential to pay attention to such telltale changes occurring throughout the body.
While the symptoms may only be triggered by indigestion or by excessive physical exercise, they might also announce more serious afflictions, especially if the individual has a family history of cardiovascular disease or is known to suffer from diabetes, hypertension or high cholesterol.
Given that cardiac arrest has such a high mortality risk associated with it, and the condition seldom appears unexpectedly, identifying its early manifestations and actually contacting a physician so as to address them immediately could save patients from premature death.
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