New Research: Americans Underestimate Dangers of Sudden Cardiac Arrest

Thursday, October 2, 2008 General News
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WASHINGTON, Oct. 1 Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) claims morelives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS, yet according to anew Heart Rhythm Society survey, four out of five Americans vastlyunderestimate the severity of this serious public health issue that causesmore than 250,000 deaths each year. In response to these startling statistics,the Heart Rhythm Society is calling attention to the need for more publiceducation and research, as well as wider access to life-saving SCA treatmentsduring the first ever congressionally designated Sudden Cardiac ArrestAwareness Month in October.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working and no blood canbe pumped to the rest of the body. In essence, the heart's electrical systemmalfunctions. It occurs abruptly and without warning, and two-thirds of SCAdeaths occur without any prior indications of heart disease. Ninety-fivepercent of those who experience SCA die because they do not receive life-saving defibrillation within four to six minutes, before brain and permanentdeath start to occur.

"SCA Awareness Month provides us the opportunity to draw attention to andbuild awareness around one of the leading causes of death in our country andone that the public, unfortunately, knows very little about," said HeartRhythm Society President Dr. N. A. Mark Estes. "The Heart Rhythm Society isworking to raise awareness about the risk of SCA, improve the public's abilityto identify warning signs, encourage individuals to seek medical attention ina timely manner and promote the need for further research into the causes ofthis leading killer."

New Survey Findings

The Heart Rhythm Society conducted a national poll of adults in the UnitedStates to uncover awareness levels and perceptions related to SCA diagnosis,treatment and therapies. Key findings include:

Heart Attack vs. SCA: Contrary to the belief held by more than 70 percentof survey respondents, SCA is not a type of heart attack. A heart attack, alsocalled a myocardial infarction, is when a blockage in a blood vesselinterrupts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, causing the heartmuscle to die. SCA occurs when the heart stops working and no blood can bepumped to the rest of the body.

Waiting for Warning Signs: Nearly 40 percent of respondents didn't realizethat most people who die from SCA have no outward indications of heartdisease. In fact, SCA can happen to people of all ages and health conditions.Even when there are warning signs, most people don't recognize them.

Optimal SCA Treatment: While sudden cardiac arrest victims need CPR or alife-saving shock from an automatic external defibrillator (AED) within 4 to 6minutes to have a chance of surviving, only one in three respondents correctlyestimated this critical treatment time. Also nearly 60 percent of respondentsdid not know that implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are the mosteffective treatment to protect those at risk of sudden cardiac arrest.

Using Automatic External Defibrillators: Automatic External Defibrillators(AEDs) are portable electronic devices that deliver a brief, high-energy shockto the victim's chest through paddles or electrode patches. AEDs will onlydeliver a shock when an irregular heart rhythm is detected and these devicesare sometimes available at public locations such as airports, gyms and officebuildings. Despite their ease of use, 75 percent of respondents expressedconcern about using an AED, which clearly demonstrates the need for furthereducation and training opportunities. Common concerns included:

Responding to Sudden Cardiac Arrest:

Time-to-treatment is critical when considering the chances of survival foran SCA victim. The new survey asked how people would respond if they witnesseda sudden cardiac arrest event. Responses included:

"Using an AED or administering CPR, as well as immediately callingemergency personnel can all improve a patient's chance of survival," added Dr.Estes. "The Heart Rhythm Society also recommends people talk to their doctorsabout their individual risk factors and seek medical attention before it istoo late."

SCA Awareness Month Earns Congressional Support

For the first time, the United States Congress designated October asSudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month. Senate Concurrent Resolution 93 andHouse Concurrent Resolution 393, which were passed in September 2008, begin toaddress and remedy the national lack of understanding around SCA. Introducedby Representatives Lois Capps (D-CA) and Chip Pickering (R-MS) and SenatorsMike Crapo (R-ID) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the resolutions will supportefforts to improve the public's ability to identify warning signs, encourageindividuals to seek medical attention in a timely manner and promote the needfor further research.

The resolutions were supported by the Heart Rhythm Society and the 29organizations that comprise the Sudden Cardiac Arrest Coalition. A recent SCACoalition survey of likely voters also found that more than half ofrespondents believe the medical research community, including the federalgovernment, is dedicating too little funding for SCA research education andtreatment and the majority of respondents favor increasing federal funding forthis issue.

For more information about the Heart Rhythm Society and SCA please visit, or

About the Heart Rhythm Society

The Heart Rhythm Society is the international leader in science, educationand advocacy for cardiac arrhythmia professionals and patients, and theprimary information resource on heart rhythm disorders. Its mission is toimprove the care of patients by promoting research, education and optimalhealth care policies and standards. Incorporated in 1979 and based inWashington, DC, it has a membership of more than 4,900 heart rhythmprofessionals in more than 65 countries around the world. Not knowing how to use an AED - 55 percent -- Hurting the victim - 38 percent -- Shocking a victim when they do not need a shock - 35 percent -- Shocking oneself while treating the victim - 12 percent -- Hurting oneself while treating the victim - 11 percent

SOURCE Heart Rhythm Society

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