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Defibrillators Save Lives in Health Clubs

The devices protect against sudden cardiac arrest

TUESDAY, Nov. 11, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Health clubs that have a defibrillator and properly trained personnel can dramatically reduce the risk of death from sudden cardiac arrest for their members.

A yearlong study of 76 health clubs in Great Britain that had automated external defibrillators (AEDs) found that using the devices along with cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) saved the lives of six of eight people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest.

"Clearly, of those eight people, the likelihood that they would have survived without an AED program in this setting is minimal," says study author Kyle McInnis, an exercise physiology professor at the University of Massachusetts. "We had a 75 percent survival rate."

This contrasts with the average survival rate of 3 percent to 5 percent for those who suffer sudden cardiac arrest outside of medical settings, McInnis says.

He presented the findings Nov. 10 at the American Heart Association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical impulses of the heart become extremely rapid or chaotic, causing the heart to suddenly stop beating, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). AEDs can assess the heart's rhythm and, if necessary, deliver an electric shock to the heart so it resumes its normal rhythm.

Immediate intervention is crucial in preventing heart damage and death in a case of sudden cardiac arrest -- if defibrillation occurs more than 12 minutes after the heart stops, the survival rate is only 2 percent to 5 percent. So, the AHA has recommended that larger health facilities and those with special seniors' programs have the devices and the trained personnel to use them in emergency situations.

For his study, McInnis and his colleagues followed a chain of 76 health clubs throughout Great Britain that had instituted an AED program for their approximately 50,000 adult members. The clubs were similar to clubs in the United States, following the same mandated safety guidelines, which include screening new members, having CPR certification for all the staff and an emergency plan in place.

The eight people who suffered sudden cardiac arrest -- five men and three women -- ranged in age from 47 to 76. All were exercising at the time of sudden cardiac arrest, either working out on treadmills, or doing weight training or aerobics. Seven of the eight people were fairly new members of the clubs, with an average membership of eight months. The other person had been exercising at his club for five years.

In each case, the club's staff used an automated external defibrillator and CPR before paramedics arrived, and six of the eight survived. Four of the eight were discharged from the hospital without neurological damage, the study says.

Approximately 25 percent of U.S. health clubs have automated external defibrillators, says Bill Howland, director of public relations and research for the International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association.

"We work with the American Heart Association and have issued recommendations to our member clubs that they look into the new technology of AEDs (automated external defibrillators)," he says.

"Having said that, while we're all for safety and being prepared to meet foreseeable emergencies, we don't believe there's a minimum standard of care that makes it a requirement at all clubs," he says.

The problem, Howland says, is not the devices themselves, which cost between $1,000 and $3,000, but the training and staffing required at all times to use them. Some clubs are too small to make this economically feasible, while others already have relationships with nearby emergency facilities that can respond in minutes, he says.

McInnis says, however, that "unquestionably, each health facility should have one (automated external defibrillator). While overall the risk (of sudden cardiac arrest in a health club) is low, the benefit of saving someone's life cannot be underestimated. Even if an emergency facility is next door, it's unlikely that a victim will be saved."

In a related study presented at the conference, researchers found the number of survivors of sudden cardiac arrest markedly increased when the victims were helped by community volunteers trained to perform not only CPR but also to use an automated external defibrillator.

Over an average 21.5 months, there were 29 cardiac arrest survivors in the group given CPR plus defibrillation, compared to 15 survivors in the group given CPR only, according to the results of the multi-center study, which was funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in collaboration with the AHA.

More information

An American Heart Association report cites an increase in the use of defibrillators outside of medical settings. The Red Cross offers training in use of automated external defibrillators.

SOURCES: Kyle McInnis, Sc.D., professor, exercise physiology, University of Massachusetts, Boston; Bill Howland, director, public relations and research, International Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association, Boston; Nov. 10, 2003, presentation, American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2003, Orlando, Fla.
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