WASHINGTON, DC — Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) claims more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS, yet according to a new Heart Rhythm Society survey, four out of five Americans vastly underestimate the severity of this serious public health issue that causes more than 250,000 deaths each year. In response to these startling statistics, the Heart Rhythm Society is calling attention to the need for more public education and research, as well as wider access to life-saving SCA treatments during the first ever Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month in October.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart stops working and no blood can be pumped to the rest of the body. In essence, the heart's electrical system malfunctions. It occurs abruptly and without warning, and two-thirds of SCA deaths occur without any prior indications of heart disease. Ninety-five percent of those who experience SCA die because they do not receive life-saving defibrillation within four to six minutes, before brain and permanent death start to occur.
“SCA Awareness Month provides us the opportunity to draw attention to and build awareness around one of the leading causes of death in our country and one that the public, unfortunately, knows very little about,” said Heart Rhythm Society President Dr. N. A. Mark Estes. “The Heart Rhythm Society is working to raise awareness about the risk of SCA, improve the public’s ability to identify warning signs, encourage individuals to seek medical attention in a timely manner and promote the need for further research into the causes of this leading killer.”
New Survey Findings
The Heart Rhythm Society conducted a national poll of adults in the United States 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 percent of survey respondents, SCA is not a type of heart attack. A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, is when a blockage in a blood vessel interrupts the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, causing the heart muscle to die. SCA occurs when the heart stops working and no blood can be pumped to the rest of the body.
Waiting for Warning Signs: Nearly 40 percent of respondents didn’t realize that most people who die from SCA have no outward indications of heart disease. 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 a life-saving shock from an automatic external defibrillator (AED) within 4 to 6 minutes to have a chance of surviving, only one in three respondents correctly estimated this critical treatment time. Also nearly 60 percent of respondents did not know that implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) are the most effective 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 shock to the victim’s chest through paddles or electrode patches. AEDs will only deliver a shock when an irregular heart rhythm is detected and these devices are sometimes available at public locations such as airports, gyms and office buildings. Despite their ease of use, 75 percent of respondents expressed concern about using an AED, which clearly demonstrates the need for further education and training opportunities. Common concerns included:
* 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 or hurting oneself while treating the victim — 23 percent
Responding to Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Time-to-treatment is critical when considering the chances of survival for an SCA victim. The new survey asked how people would respond if they witnessed a sudden cardiac arrest event. Responses included:
* Calling 911 and waiting for emergency personnel to respond — 42 percent
* Administering CPR or chest compressions — 35 percent
* Using an Automatic External Defibrillator — 16 percent
“Using an AED or administering CPR, as well as immediately calling emergency personnel can all improve a patient’s chance of survival,” added Dr. Estes. “The Heart Rhythm Society also recommends people talk to their doctors about their individual risk factors and seek medical attention before it is too late.”
Advocating for SCA Prevention Research
One of the founding members of the Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) Coalition, the Heart Rhythm Society’s congressional advocacy efforts focus on issues of critical importance to the heart rhythm physician, scientist, allied health professional, and patient, including sudden cardiac arrest prevention. A recent SCA Coalition survey of likely voters also found that more than half of respondents believe the medical research community, including the federal government, is dedicating too little funding for SCA research education and treatment and the majority of respondents favor increasing federal funding for this issue.
The SCA Coalition is comprised of 29 organizations, including the SCA Foundation, who are passionate about preventing sudden cardiac arrest deaths through legislative initiatives that lead to greater public awareness, research and access to life-saving therapies. The SCA Coalition is focused on national issues that have the opportunity to bring about meaningful change that will save lives.