Nav: Home

Medical first: Discovery of warning symptoms for usually fatal heart rhythm malfunction

December 21, 2015

LOS ANGELES (Dec. 21, 2015) - More than half of patients who have a sudden cardiac arrest ignore symptoms occurring up to a month prior to the usually fatal heart rhythm malfunction even though medical intervention potentially could save their lives, according to new research published by the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Although medical science has long regarded sudden cardiac arrest as a deadly condition that strikes without warning, a new study led by an associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute shows for the first time that many patients experience warning symptoms up to a month before having a cardiac arrest.

"Sudden cardiac arrest in middle age hits society hard since most who are affected are their families' primary breadwinners," said Sumeet S. Chugh, MD, medical director of the Heart Rhythm Center in the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the Pauline and Harold Price Chair in Cardiac Electrophysiology Research. "Fewer than 7 percent survive a sudden cardiac arrest, which has historically made it difficult to pinpoint symptoms. These research findings suggest that we could use an entirely novel approach to predict and prevent this devastating condition."

The study performed in 839 patients between the ages of 35 and 65 outlines the most common symptoms, including intermittent chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations and ongoing influenza-like indicators such as nausea and abdominal and back pain.

"These new findings give good reason not to ignore unusual sensations, as vague as they may be," said Eduardo Marbán, MD, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute. "Better to seek medical attention early than to risk dying suddenly."

Approximately 350,000 people in the U.S. die each year from sudden cardiac arrest, accounting for 50 percent of all cardiovascular deaths nationally.

Although 'heart attack' and 'sudden cardiac arrest' are often used interchangeably, the terms are not synonymous. A heart attack -- myocardial infarction -- is typically caused by clogged coronary arteries that reduce blood flow to the heart muscle. Sudden cardiac arrest is the result of defective electrical activity of the heart. Patients may have little or no warning, and the disorder usually causes instantaneous death. Sudden cardiac arrest has been blamed for the deaths of journalist Tim Russert and filmmaker John Hughes.

"We already have the implantable defibrillator, a surgically implanted device that is a long-term lifesaver for many patients who suffer sudden cardiac arrest down the road," Chugh said. "Now that we realize that sudden death may not be so sudden, there is also potential for new shorter-term approaches by increasing awareness and education of patients and their healthcare providers."

Over recent years, Chugh and his team of researchers have been the first to identify several risk factors for sudden cardiac arrest, including levels of sex hormones in the blood, genetic markers and electrical and structural abnormalities of the heart.

In addition to his leadership role at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Chugh heads the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, a comprehensive, 16-hospital, multiyear assessment of cardiac deaths in the Portland metropolitan area, home to 1 million people. The study has been underway for more than a decade. Data collected from it provides Chugh and his team with unique, community-based information to mine for answers to what causes sudden cardiac arrest.

In the new study, Chugh and his researchers analyzed data on 839 patients included in the Oregon assessment. The researchers also interviewed first responders and patients' family members. Results include:
  • 51 percent of patients experienced warning symptoms, predominately chest pain, prior to the cardiac arrest.
  • In the group that experienced symptoms, 93 percent experienced them again in the 24 hours preceding the cardiac arrest.
  • Only 19 percent of those who experienced symptoms called emergency medical services.
  • The patients who experienced symptoms and sought medical help had a survival rate of 32 percent. Those who did not seek medical treatment for symptoms had a survival rate of 6 percent.
-end-
The research was supported by grant R01HL122492 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

About the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute

The Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute is internationally recognized for outstanding heart care built on decades of innovation and leading-edge research. From cardiac imaging and advanced diagnostics to surgical repair of complex heart problems to the training of the heart specialists of tomorrow and research that is deepening medical knowledge and practice, the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute is known around the world for excellence and innovations.

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center

Related Cardiac Arrest Articles:

Intravenous sodium nitrite ineffective for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest
Among patients who had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, intravenous sodium nitrite given by paramedics during resuscitation did not significantly improve their chances of being admitted to or discharged from the hospital alive, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session Together with World Congress of Cardiology (ACC.20/WCC).
Getting to the heart of epinephrine use in pediatric cardiac arrest patients
The effectiveness of epinephrine treatment during resuscitation of adult patients with cardiac arrest is generally promising, but little is known about its effects in pediatric patients.
Bystanders can help more cardiac arrest victims survive
Only 8% of Americans survive cardiac arrest outside a hospital, but that percentage could increase significantly if bystanders recognize cardiac arrest and perform simple lifesaving tasks, a UVA Health physician says in a New England Journal of Medicine article.
Opioid-related cardiac arrest patients differ from other cardiac arrests
People who suffer cardiac arrest due to an opioid overdose are younger, have fewer chronic medical conditions and may be more likely to be to receive bystander CPR, according to a review of emergency response records in Maine.
Selective coronary angiography following cardiac arrest
In the current issue of Cardiovascular Innovations and Applications volume 4, issue 2, pp.
Sudden cardiac arrest in athletes: Prevention and management
It's marathon season, and every so often a news report will focus on an athlete who has collapsed from sudden cardiac arrest.
Scientific statement on predicting survival for cardiac arrest survivors
If a loved one has a heart attack that stops the heart, ends up in a coma, and the treating physician approaches you about taking the person off life support, would you trust that the physician knows when to make the call or how to judge that the person won't recover?
Cardiac arrest among hospitalized patients may be underestimated
More patients may be having cardiac arrests in the hospital than previously believed.
Women are less likely to be resuscitated and survive a cardiac arrest than men
Women who have a cardiac arrest outside the hospital setting are less likely to receive resuscitation from bystanders and more likely to die than men, according to new research published in the European Heart Journal.
Compression-only CPR increases survival of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest
In a Swedish study of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest, bystander CPR rates nearly doubled and compression-only, or Hands-Only CPR, rates increased six-fold over the 18-year review.
More Cardiac Arrest News and Cardiac Arrest Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.