Aug. 25 (UPI) -- More than half of those who experience a sudden cardiac arrest sought medical help in the weeks leading up to their health crisis, according to a study presented Thursday at the European Society of Cardiology Congress 2020.
Among those who experienced what the American Heart Association describes as an "abrupt loss of heart function," 54% had been in touch with their primary care doctors in the two weeks leading to their emergency, while roughly 7% contacted local hospitals -- and some did both -- the data showed.
In an average week, roughly 14% of the overall population communicates with their physician, the researchers said.
"Our study indicates that patients felt unwell in the days leading up to the cardiac arrest," study co-author Dr. Nertila Zylyftari said in a statement.
"The high mortality from cardiac arrest in the community emphasizes the need to identify those at risk," said Zylyftari, a cardiologist at Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark.
Out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is the third-leading cause of death worldwide, according to the European Society of Cardiology. On average, less than 10% of victims survive, the society estimates.
Previous studies have reported that some patients had symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest discomfort and heart palpitations in advance of a cardiac arrest and contacted the healthcare system.
But little information is available on when and where these contacts occurred, according to the society, which is holding its conference virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For this study, Zylyftari and her colleagues investigated the proportion of cardiac arrest patients who contacted a primary care physician or hospital 52 weeks before their heart event, 51 weeks before and so on, up to one week before.
Patient data was collected from the Danish Cardiac Arrest Registry to identify all those who suffered a cardiac arrest outside of hospitals in Denmark between 2001 and 2014.
The researchers then accessed the unique civil registration numbers assigned to all Danish citizens to link information from several national administrative registries, including dates of physician and hospital contacts.
A total of 28,955 people in Denmark had an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest during the 14-year study period, the data showed.
To compare the results in cardiac arrest patients with the overall population in Denmark, each patient was matched by age and sex to nine people from the general public, according to the researchers.
Of those who had a sudden cardiac arrest, 58% sought medical help during the two weeks before the event, the data showed.
Those who communicated with their physician during the two-week period before their cardiac arrest did so by phone or email 72% of the time, while 43% had a face-to-face consultation. Some did both, which is why the total exceeds 100%, according the researchers said.
In addition, 25% of the cardiac arrest patients who visited hospital during the two-week period before the event had cardiovascular disease, the data showed.
Identifying those at risk for cardiac arrest "is very challenging since these are considered sudden and unexpected events," Zylyftari said.
"We show that the proportion of patients who contacted [physicians] and hospitals were higher every week throughout the year before their event," Zylyftari said. "[This may be a] warning sign of those at imminent danger."