February's Focus Is On the Heart

Edition: February 2002 - Vol 10 Number 02
Article#: 1161
Author: Laura Thill

Since 1964, the month of February has been designated American Heart Month. Chances are, your physician-office customers are talking to their patients about staying “heart healthy,” recommending that they stop smoking, consume less fat and engage in regular exercise. Statistics show that a lot more talking has to be done.

Despite a 60 percent decrease in death rates from heart disease and stroke since 1950, cardiovascular disease remains the number one killer in the United States, with stroke following closely as the third leading cause of death. (See related story.) More than 60 million people in the United States have some type of heart disease, and more than 2,600 individuals die of it every day. The expense incurred from treating heart disease and related lost productivity amounts to an estimated $299 billion every year.

Helping patients avoid heart attacks is physicians' No. 1 goal. And with good reason. According to the American Heart Association, 25 percent of men and 38 percent of women die within a year of a heart attack. In fact, heart attack survivors face a 1.5 to 15 times higher chance of illness or death than others. For those who survive for six years following a heart attack, the chance for a healthy, disease-free life remains less than encouraging. The American Heart Association notes the following:

•        18 percent of men and 34 percent of women will encounter sudden death.
•        22 percent of men and 46 percent of women will be disabled with heart failure.
•        8 percent of men and 11 percent of women will experience a stroke.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest and AEDs
Sudden cardiac arrest kills more than 200,000 people every year. For every minute following a heart attack, one's survival chances decrease by 10 percent. That's why the American Heart Association estimates that nearly 50,000 lives could be saved if defibrillators became widely available in public locations, including doctors' offices. And progress is being made on that score.

For example, in January, the city of Los Angeles announced a citywide public access defibrillation program to protect residents, workers and visitors. The city deployed Philips Medical Systems' Heartstream FR2 automated external defibrillators in public locations throughout the city, including City Hall, parks and recreation facilities, the convention center, the city's airports and the zoo. The Los Angeles Fire Department has trained city employees to use the devices, ensuring that life-saving defibrillators and a trained responder are close to a victim of sudden cardiac arrest.

The city's vision for the program includes an additional 200 automated defibrillators designated for public locations such as harbor facilities and boats, public libraries and pools. The Los Angeles Unified School District will also place the devices throughout their schools. Ultimately, thousands of city employees and the citizens of Los Angeles will have the opportunity to receive training on automated external defibrillation. But the devices are reportedly so easy to use that little or no formal training is required. In fact, in one study conducted by the University of Washington in Seattle, after one minute of instruction, sixth graders took less than 30 seconds longer than a trained professional to apply a shock that could restore a heartbeat.