Sudden cardiac arrest may not always be so sudden: New research suggests a lot of people may ignore potentially life-saving warning signs hours, days, even a few weeks before they collapse.
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.
An unusual study that has closely tracked sudden cardiac arrest in Portland, Oregon, for over a decade got around that roadblock, using interviews with witnesses, family and friends after patients collapse and tracking down their medical records.
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.