1 in 10 People Call 911 Before Cardiac Arrest—These Are Their Symptoms
Nearly 12 percent reached out to emergency services 24 hours before cardiac arrest.
Cardiac arrest is a condition known for its sudden onset. Most people who experience the unexpected loss of heart function, breathing, and consciousness, never notice any warning signs. However, a recent study found that close to 1 in 10 people called emergency services in the 24 hours before experiencing cardiac arrest about symptoms that were likely signaling their imminent heart failure. Read on to see the most common reasons people call 911 up to a day before cardiac arrest.
Nearly 12 percent of people call 911 in the 24 hours before experiencing cardiac arrest.
A study that was recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress examined the data of 4,071 people who experienced out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. The research found that around 1 in 10 of these people—11.8 percent—made calls to emergency services in the 24 hours before experiencing cardiac arrest.
The patients who made these emergency calls experienced a variety of symptoms. The most commonly reported were breathing problems (59.4 percent), confusion (23 percent), unconsciousness (20.2 percent), chest pain (19.5 percent), and paleness (19.1 percent).
An emergency medical response was dispatched more often for chest pain than for breathing problems.
Although more cardiac arrest patients reached out to emergency services due to breathing difficulties, these callers didn't receive emergency medical responses nearly as frequently as those who called due to chest pain. The study found that an urgent medical response was only dispatched in 68.7 percent of calls where a person reported breathing problems. Meanwhile, 83 percent of people who reported chest pain received an urgent response.
"Breathing difficulty was the most common complaint and much more common than chest pain. Despite this, compared to chest pain, patients with breathing issues were less likely to receive emergency medical help," study co-author Filip Gnesin said in a statement.
But people who reported difficulty breathing had a lower survival rate.
Gnesin said research shows patients with difficulty breathing "are more likely to die within 30 days after [cardiac] arrest." The study found that 81 percent of patients who reported trouble breathing ahead of cardiac arrest died within 30 days. Meanwhile, a smaller portion of patients who reported chest pain during their emergency call—47 percent—died within 30 days of cardiac arrest.
"These findings indicate that breathing problems are an underrated warning sign of cardiac arrest," Gnesin said. "Since difficulty breathing is also a sign of other health conditions, we hope our findings will stimulate further research to help emergency medical dispatchers distinguish between symptoms of a pre-arrest condition versus other medical issues."
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Other early warning signs of cardiac arrest include heart palpitations, wheezing, and fainting.
The study statement notes that there is limited knowledge about the warning signs for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. Although cardiac arrest often comes on suddenly without much warning, the Mayo Clinic says that are some early signs. If you experience chest discomfort, shortness of breath, weakness, heart palpitations, unexplained wheezing, lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting, you should call for emergency medical attention.
Per Geisinger Health, people can sometimes have symptoms up to two weeks before cardiac arrest occurs. Men report chest pain more often, while women more commonly experience shortness of breath. In addition to the signs that the Mayo Clinic details, Geisinger says some patients also report flu-like symptoms ahead of cardiac arrest. "When the warning signs are seemingly minor, flu-like symptoms, it can be hard to take them seriously," electrophysiologist Faiz Subzposh, MD, told Geisinger. He said this "might be the reason only one in five patients who notice the symptoms choose to report them."
A 2015 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that 51 percent of patients experienced warning symptoms in the four weeks before cardiac arrest. Among those patients, 93 percent saw their symptoms recur during the 24 hours before they went into cardiac arrest. The most common symptom was chest pain, with 46 percent of symptomatic patients reporting it. Labored breath was the second-most common symptom at 18 percent, and other warning signs included flu-like symptoms and heart palpitations.