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Cardiac arrest: quicker emergency assistance would save lives

(Vienna, 28 August 2012) In Vienna alone, around 3,000 people die from a cardiac arrest each year. The average age of these people is only 66. According to a recent study by the MedUni Vienna, many of them could survive a cardiac arrest if help came quickly.

Sudden cardiac death caused by cardiac arrest is the most common fatal heart condition. Until now, however, it has been difficult to obtain exact figures. This prompted Fritz Sterz from the University Department of Emergency Medicine at the MedUni Vienna to initiate a study into the condition.

The results of the study send out a clear message: neither a heart attack nor a cardiac arrest necessarily mean a fatal outcome nowadays. This is because, with prompt assistance from first aiders, the chances of survival are high. Adds Sterz: “A third of all patients who receive prompt treatment and are transferred by the ambulance service to the emergency room are able to be discharged alive and well.”

Often, however, there are no first aiders on hand, which is why the ambulance crew are often only able to confirm the patient’s death. As a result of this, the overall survival rate is only nine per cent, a value that puts Vienna in the middle of the international rankings. In Scandinavian countries especially, the survival rate is significantly higher.

The survival rate can be markedly improved with more help from bystanders
Sterz is therefore calling for more help from bystanders. Prompt emergency assistance can greatly improve the chances of survival of someone who has sustained a cardiac arrest. “In Vienna, a bystander comes to the aid of one in two cardiac arrest patients. In an international comparison, this figure is quite high. So it would be great if bystanders were able to help on every occasion," says Sterz, who, for this reason, is backing the use of notice boards displaying what to do in an emergency and first aid courses in schools.

Students carried out the main body of work in the study
Figures from 2009 and 2010 were collated and evaluated for the study, which was recently published in “Resuscitation”, an internationally leading science journal for emergency medicine. According to Fritz Sterz, the initiator and person in charge of the study, this was very hard work: “A team of students from the MedUni Vienna, including the primary author of the study, Alexander Nürnberger, really put in some back-breaking work. Organising the patients’ histories alone was a mammoth task. The outstanding collaboration with Vienna’s ambulance department was also key to the study's success.”

Up-to-date figures available for the German-speaking region for the first time
The last Austrian study on the subject of cardiac arrest dated from the 1990s. Until now, up-to-date figures for this condition have been a rarity even across the whole of the German-speaking region.

Service: Resuscitation

Out of hospital cardiac arrest in Vienna: Incidence and outcome.” Alexander Nürnberger, Fritz Sterz, Reinhard Malzer, Alexandra Warenits, Michael Girsa, Mathias Stöckl, Gerald Hlavin, Ingrid Anna Maria Magnet, Christoph Weiser, Andreas Zajicek, Harald Glück, Marie Sophie Grave, Vivien Müller, Nina Benold, Pia Hubner, Alfred Kaff; j.resuscitation.2012.07.002.