A recent study suggests that the pandemic has had an impact on the chances for recovery of those who experience sudden cardiac arrest, officials said this week.

Researchers found that survival rates have been significantly reduced, even in communities that were only moderately affected by COVID-19, according to a statement.

The lower rate is potentially associated with bystanders’ fear of performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation and risking exposure. Another potential factor: longer emergency response times.

Researchers from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles conducted the study.

“When someone goes into cardiac arrest and collapses, they need to be resuscitated immediately,” said Kyndaron Reinier, a research scientist and the principal investigator of the study. “With each minute that goes by, the chance of survival goes down.”

The team based its research on data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Study, a 16-hospital, multi-year assessment of cardiac deaths in the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area, and the Ventura Prediction of Sudden Death in Multi-Ethnic Communities Study, based in Ventura.

The researchers evaluated 509 out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrests, comparing response to them over two periods. One occurred before the pandemic, from March 1-May 31, 2019, the other during the pandemic, from March 1-May 31, 2020.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Clinical Electrophysiology, found that before the pandemic:

  • 61% of people experiencing out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest had CPR administered by a bystander before EMS personnel arrived. During the pandemic, that number fell by 10%.
  • Ambulance personnel arrived at a cardiac arrest in an average of 6.6 minutes. During the pandemic, response time rose by an average of 1 additional minute.

Reinier said two potential explanations to the increase in emergency medical response time could be connected to the need for 911 dispatchers to screen calls for potential COVID-19 symptoms. She also cited new personal protective equipment guidelines EMS workers had to implement, resulting in an increase in response time as they donned protective gear.

“Bystander CPR remains critically important for survival. For years, we have been recommending chest compressions only, so there is no need for face-to-face contact,” she added. “If a patient receives bystander CPR it doubles their chances of survival.”

Unlike heart attacks (myocardial infarctions), which are typically caused by clogged coronary arteries reducing 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 death within minutes if no resuscitation is performed.

Sudden cardiac arrest accounts for approximately 300,000 deaths each year in the U.S.

– City News Service