Cardiac Arrest Deaths Down, but Gap Persists

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Women, African-Americans Still More Likely to Die After Cardiac Arrest

By Charlene Laino
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

April 13, 2010 (Toronto) -- More Americans are surviving cardiac arrest than did to two decades ago. But women are still more likely than men to die after cardiac arrest. And the risk of death continues to be higher for African-Americans than for other races.

"Death rates went down for both genders and all races," says researcher Richard Dubinsky, MD, professor of neurology at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

"But women and African-Americans had higher mortality rates throughout all 20 years," he says.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology.

Women More Likely to Die After Cardiac Arrest

Nearly 300,000 Americans a year go into sudden cardiac arrest, in which a person dies within minutes after an abrupt loss of heart function. The disorder is particularly devastating because it strikes without warning and at any age, Dubinsky says.

For the new analysis, the researchers looked at data on more than 500,000 Americans hospitalized for cardiac arrest between 1988 and 2007. The analysis included people who had cardiac arrest in and out of the hospital.

Among the findings:

  • The death rate dropped from 68% in 1988-1992 to 57% in 2003-2007.
  • During all time periods, the death rate was higher for women than for men. From 2003 to 2007, the death rate was 65.2% for women and 58.2% for men.
  • During all time periods, the death rate was higher for African-Americans than for whites. In the 2003-2007 period, the death rate was 68.5% for African-Americans and 58.9% for whites.
  • After other risk factors such as age and other medical conditions were taken into account, women were 20% more likely than men to die from cardiac arrest. African-Americans were 12% more likely than whites to die from cardiac arrest.

Learn the Warning Signs of Cardiac Arrest

Although the study was not designed to look at why women and African-Americans might face poorer outlooks, Dubinsky says a variety of factors may be at play.

"They may not be as aware of the warning signs or it could be they don't have equal access to care," he says.

But Larry Goldstein, MD, professor of neurology at Duke University in Durham, N.C., warns against concluding women and African-Americans are dying because of inadequate care.

"There are many risk factors the researchers did not take into account, such as whether patients who suffer cardiac arrest outside the hospitals were alone or whether the attack was witnessed," he tells WebMD.

Dubinsky agrees further study is needed. But in the meantime, "we need to get the warning signs out there," he says.

Here are the signs:

  • Sudden loss of responsiveness (no response to tapping on shoulders)
  • No normal breathing (the victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds)

SOURCES: American Academy of Neurology 62nd Annual Meeting, Toronto, April 10-17, 2010.

Richard Dubinsky, MD, professor of neurology, University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.

Larry Goldstein, MD, professor of neurology, Duke University, Durham, N.C.

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