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Report: U.S. Survival Rate for Cardiac Arrest Needs Improvement

The odds of surviving a cardiac arrest can increase greatly if treated properly by people trained in CPR or AED.

*July 12, 2016

A two-day national workshop on putting last year's report recommendations into practice goes through today at the National Academies of Science in Washington.  You can follow the discussion on Twitter.

A Milwaukee researcher was one of the key figures behind a landmark report on treating cardiac arrest in the United States.

Doctor Tom Aufderheide is a professor of emergency medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin and was on the steering committee for the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine report on cardiac arrest. The report, called Strategies to Improve Cardiac Arrest Survival: A Time to Act, was released yesterday (July 2015) .

"There are myths about cardiac arrest. One of the most common is that cardiac arrest is the same as a heart attack," Dr. Aufderheide says. "In fact, the two are completely distinct and different."

He says treatment for heart attacks is very good in the U.S. and the survival rate is very high. On the other hand, there are over 600,000 cardiac arrests that occur each year in the United States and the estimated survival rate is only 6%, Aufderheide says. (Though Milwaukee does have one of the highest survival rates in the nation.)

Cardiac arrest is an electrical problem, where the heart suddenly stops beating. "The patient becomes instantly unresponsive and if there is any hope for survival, simple interventions such as CPR and the use of a public access defibrillator makes the difference between life and death and can significantly increase survival rate," he says.

Speed and quality of care make a huge difference in outcomes, he says; however, "there really isn't a unified national advocacy for cardiac arrest that can increase the consciousness of the American public about the importance of this problem, and the simple steps they can learn to take and save a life."

Aufderheide says that the recommendations in the Institute of Medicine report apply to people in public health, front line medical staff and the community at large.