An under-appreciated killer goes under the microscope
For many Americans, congenital heart defects are a topic we tend to overlook. Even during American Heart Month (February), the focus is usually on lifestyle-related prevention of heart disease. In fact, it’s not until a news item appears – usually about a young person in fine health suddenly suffering a heart attack while playing sports – that it gets our attention.
While not a common occurrence, congenital heart defects are a critical reality for 1.3 million Americans. And greater awareness of them can often mean the difference between life and death.
What is a congenital heart defect?
In its simplest terms, a congenital heart defect is a structural problem within the heart that’s present since birth. According to the American Heart Association, the damage, which can range from simple to severe, occurs shortly after conception, usually before a woman even realizes she’s pregnant.
Out of 1,000 births, it’s estimated that eight will have some type (there are more than 40 known varieties) of congenital heart disorder. Most of these cases are mild, and early diagnosis and treatment are necessary. Early indicators, usually identified within the first few months after birth, include:
- Blue complexion to the skin;
- Very low blood pressure;
- Breathing problems;
- Feeding issues; and
- Poor weight gain.
Some conditions, however, cannot be diagnosed until children are older, and some patients may not even be aware of their condition until adulthood. Therein lies the issue of sudden cardiac arrest.
Sudden cardiac arrest vs. heart attack
While many people use the two terms interchangeably, there is a very real difference between the two.
Most heart attacks occur when a blood clot caused by a build-up of arterial plaques blocks a coronary artery, which can lead to the damage or death of the heart muscle fed by that particular artery. In most cases, victims will experience chest discomfort and other warning signs leading up to and during the event. They will also often remain conscious.
Sudden cardiac arrest (SCA), on the other hand – which a heart attack may lead to – is often abrupt and unexpected, especially when a congenital heart defect is the cause. The heartbeat stops due to an electrical abnormality. As a result, blood stops flowing to the brain and the person collapses. Without immediate treatment, the result is death.
The role of CPR and AEDs
Greater awareness of congenital heart defects and other issues that lead to sudden SCA are an alarm for more CPR training and the availability and use of AEDs. Because SCAs are so immediate, there is a need to respond quickly:
- Call 911 to alert medical personnel to respond to the emergency
- If an AED is not available, perform CPR until an AED arrives; If one is available, skip to the next step
- Use the AED to analyze the victim’s heart rhythm and to provide a shock if necessary, then move to CPR while following any prompts from the AED
- Advanced care will begin with the arrival of medical personnel and transport to the hospital.
In an analysis of a North Carolina initiative to promote CPR training for family members and bystanders, the American College of Cardiology report a marked improvement in survival rates after the statewide program “trained family members and bystanders to recognize the signs of sudden cardiac arrest, quickly call emergency responders, and use CPR or automated external defibrillators (AEDs).”
From the moment of the event to discharge from the hospital:
- For SCAs in the home (family member training), the survival rate rose from 5.7% to 8.1%.
- For SCAs in a public location (bystander training), the survival rate increased from 10.8% to 16.8%.
Similar improvements were also found in the number of patients with minor losses in brain function and full improvement. Despite the positive results of the educational initiative, the authors of the study saw opportunity for improvement:
“The authors explain that these results are encouraging, but due to the low absolute survival rates, there is still room for improvement. They suggest that future research in this area include interventions such as deploying AEDs into more private homes when cardiac arrests occur and using mobile technology to notify nearby citizens trained in CPR who can initiate care quickly.”
What One Beat CPR can do for you
Congenital heart defects that lead to SCAs are a sudden and underappreciated killer, but one that can be mitigated with greater access to AEDs and widespread lifesaving training. It’s our mission to change these statistics.
In addition to defibrillator sales and maintenance, One Beat CPR provides CPR and AED training for caregivers, family members, medical personnel, and anyone who wants to be prepared to save a life. Successful completion of the course is valid for two years.
For more information or for a free consultation, contact us at 855.663.2328 or complete our convenient online form.