Finding new ways to prevent sudden cardiac arrest

Finding new ways to prevent sudden cardiac arrest
© iStock/tonefotografia

Primary care visits increase significantly in the weeks immediately preceding a sudden cardiac arrest, according to research from European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA).  

The findings come from the ESCAPE-NET project, which has been backed by the EHRA, the European Society of Cardiology (ESC) and the European Resuscitation Council (ERC). 

“Contrary to the general assumption, sudden cardiac arrest does not strike entirely unheralded, as ESCAPE-NET data have shown that patients attend primary care more often in the run up to an arrest compared to usual,” said Dr Hanno Tan, ESCAPE-NET project leader and cardiologist, Amsterdam University Medical Centre AMC, the Netherlands.  

“This insight may provide a lead for efforts to identify individuals at imminent risk of cardiac arrest so that it can be prevented,” he added.  

Sudden cardiac arrest often occurs without warning

It is reported that one in five deaths in industrialised nations are caused by sudden cardiac arrest. Most sudden cardiac arrests happen to people who are not known to be at risk. A cardiac arrhythmia, called ventricular fibrillation, causes the heart to stop pumping, ceasing the flow of blood around the body. If blood flow is not quickly resumed, the individual will pass out and die within ten to 20 minutes. 

The ESCAPE-NET project was created to improve the prevention and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest. During the five-year EU Horizon 2020-funded scientific project, researchers investigated the causes of ventricular fibrillation. The researchers wanted to identify new prevention methods and examine resuscitation strategies to improve rates of survival.  

The researchers needed to gather information on genetic and environmental risk factors from large study cohorts of sudden cardiac arrest patients in order to develop effective prevention and treatment approaches. 

The ESCAPE-NET researchers worked together to create a shared database containing information on over 100,000 sudden cardiac arrest victims.  

“This resource can be used by scientists across the world, including researchers outside of the ESCAPE-NET consortium, to conduct studies on cardiac arrest. This should accelerate knowledge gathering on this condition and ultimately reduce the societal burden of cardiac arrest,” said Dr Tan.  

“This biobank will serve to increase our understanding of the genetic causes of cardiac arrest,” he added. 

Men receive better care than women 

The full findings have been published in peer-reviewed journals The Lancet Public Health, Resuscitation, and EP Europace. Key findings include the revelation that citizen rescuers provide less rapid resuscitation care to women than to men, and that women subsequently have lower survival chances than men.  

“This eye-opener must lead to public awareness campaigns aimed at narrowing the gender gap in cardiac arrest management,” said Dr Tan.  

He concluded: “Sudden cardiac arrest is a pressing public health problem that has so far been extremely hard to solve, largely because of the lack of difficult-to-obtain detailed clinical data and biological samples. ESCAPE-NET has made important steps by establishing a database, biobank and knowledge base that may be used in future studies to solve this problem,” he concluded. 

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