If not treated within minutes, sudden cardiac arrest is usually fatal. The condition, which kills roughly 200,000 Americans each year, occurs when the heart unexpectedly stops beating.
Researchers from Duke University say that the survival rate would likely be much better if more people in the community were trained in CPR. In a recent study, cardiac arrest victims who received bystander CPR combined with defibrillation by a first-responder had a significantly higher chance of surviving the event.
“What we showed in this [HeartRescue] program is that there was a 37 percent improvement in survival with good neurologic outcome from cardiac arrest, which is a huge public health issue,” says Christopher Granger, M.D., professor of medicine at Duke University. “I think that’s incredibly important; that we can make such a big impact with a concerted effort.”
The study specifically looked at data from nearly 5,000 cardiac arrest cases that occurred in 11 counties in North Carolina between 2010 and 2013. During this time, a statewide campaign called The HeartRescue Project was also in place to encourage hands-only CPR from bystanders. In the event of a cardiac emergency, the campaign also promoted the use of automated external defibrillators (AEDs) while waiting for an ambulance to arrive.
The campaign must have been effective — over 86 percent of cardiac arrest victims did indeed receive CPR before paramedics arrived at the scene. Over half of these instances were initiated by bystanders. (The rest were initiated by first-responders.)
According to Granger, the fact that communities can make such a big difference is no small thing.
“I think the biggest takeaway is that it’s really possible to improve survival from cardiac arrest if one makes a concerted and organized effort to train people to do hands-only CPR and organize one’s first-responders to place AEDs,” he says.
He adds that it’s really the combination of hands-only bystander CPR and the use of defibrillators by either a bystander or first-responder that made a huge difference in survival.
“It’s a way of organizing what’s already there in a way that substantially improves public health.”