You're More Likely to Die From This Condition Amid COVID, Study Shows

Response time and a lack of willingness to perform live-saving measures could be to blame.

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You know the novel coronavirus wreaks havoc on your lungs, heart, and even your brain, but the way the pandemic has affected the world around us is also making other common conditions more dangerous, too. In fact, a new study shows that patients who experience sudden cardiac arrest have been more likely to die since the coronavirus pandemic began. According to research from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai published in the August 2020 issue of JACC: Clinical Electrophysiology, individuals who had heart attacks outside of a hospital setting amid coronavirus were less likely to survive than they were before the pandemic.

It's not coronavirus itself that's making heart attacks deadlier, however. The study's authors found that there were two distinct factors that contributed to the uptick in cardiac-arrest-related mortality outside of hospitals: increased wait times for ambulances and reluctance on the part of bystanders to perform CPR.

The study's findings are based on data from the Oregon Sudden Unexpected Death Survey. The researchers compared 278 incidences of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest that occurred from March 1 to May 31, 2020, to 231 that happened within those same dates in 2019. They found that, prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the average wait time for an ambulance following a heart attack was 6.6 minutes; amid the pandemic, that average was 7.6 minutes.

On top of that, in 2019, 61 percent of individuals who experienced an out-of-hospital heart attack received CPR from a bystander; by 2020, that number had dropped to just 51 percent, likely due to fear of contracting the potentially deadly virus.

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"When someone goes into cardiac arrest and collapses, they need to be resuscitated immediately," the study's lead researcher Kyndaron Reinier, PhD, MPH, said in a statement. "With each minute that goes by, the chance of survival goes down."

The combination of the reduction in bystander CPR and increased wait times for ambulances was associated with a significant drop in the likelihood patients would survive—14.7 percent of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest patients in the study were discharged from the hospital in 2019, but just 7.9 percent left the hospital alive in 2020, nearly slashing the mortality risk in half.

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While some elements that led to the increased time it took for ambulances to reach patients—namely donning personal protective equipment—may be unavoidable, Reinier said that changes to bystander intervention may save lives.

Reinier described bystander CPR as "critically important" to the survival of heart attack patients, noting that it doesn't have to include mouth-to-mouth, which could increase the risk of person-to-person coronavirus transmission. "For years, we have been recommending chest compressions only, so there is no need for face-to-face contact," Reinier explained. And for more on the long-term effects of the coronavirus, check out The 98 Longest Lasting COVID Symptoms You Need to Know About.

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