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Hospital's Slow Response to Cardiac Arrest Leads to Hypoxic Brain Injury

Hypoxia (diminished oxygen) and anoxia (absence of oxygen) are leading causes of brain damage.  These events are often precipitated by cardiac arrest which causes the heart to stop pumping needed blood supply to the brain.  It is the blood that supplies needed oxygen to the brain.  The brain utilizes the majority of the bodies oxygen supply.

An article on the front page of today's New York Times, Hospitals Seen as Slow to Halt Cardiac Arrest reports the findings of a study published today in the New England Journal of Medicine where it was found that in nearly a third of cases of sudden cardiac arrest in the hospital, the staff takes too long to respond, thereby increasing the risk of brain damage and death.

In nearly 30 percent of the cases studied, it took longer than the national standard of two minutes to shock the heart and bring it back to normal function. This increased time leads to increased oxygen deprivation and increased brain damage.

The study and an accompanying editorial clearly find that these injuries are preventable and good hospital care would prevent this needless brain damage from occurring. 

Delays were more likely in patients whose hearts stopped at night or on the weekend, who were admitted for non cardiac illnesses, in hospitals with fewer than 250 beds and in units without heart monitors.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Paul S. Chan of St. Luke's Mid America Heart Institute in Kansas City,  MO is quoted as saying, "We know what works, what save lives. We have the technology available, and certainly the knowledge and skilled personnel in the hospital to shock patients back to normal rhythm. But it will take political will for hospitals to put those resources to better use."

Dr. Leslie A. Saxon, chief of cardiology at the University of Southern California in an accompanying New England of Medicine editorial is quoted as saying, "This is the kind of date we need to say, Let's make sure these preventable things never happen on our watch"

One thing the study recommends is that all hospitals have sufficient automatic defibrillators (which cost less than $500 a piece)  in place to shock the heart back to life along with better monitoring of all patients to alert staff to cardiac arrests.

Hopefully these recommendations will be implemented in hospitals throughout the country without delay to reduce these needless brain injuries.



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