Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States, claiming nearly 300,000 lives each year. During a cardiac arrest, heart function stops abruptly and without warning. When this occurs, the heart is no longer able to pump blood to the rest of the body, and 95 percent of victims die. Sudden cardiac arrest claims one life every two minutes, taking more lives each year than breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS.
Unfortunately, most cardiac arrest patients die before they ever reach the hospital. The time from onset of the cardiac arrest to treatment is critical. Cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation are required within the first several minutes to restore electrical activity to the heart and revive the heart's pumping function.
For decades, conventional wisdom in treating patients with cardiac arrest was that if the heart stopped beating for longer than four to six minutes, the brain would be dead. Brain damage or death occur when the brain is deprived of much-needed oxygen. Even when the heart starts pumping again and blood is restored to the brain, toxins are released in the brain that can cause permanent damage and/or brain death.
A new treatment being embraced by a growing number of U.S. hospitals suggests that patients can be brought back to a healthy life even if their heart is stopped for more than four to six minutes. Endorsed by the American Heart Association, this treatment is called therapeutic or induced hypothermia. At its core is the simplest of technologies: ice.
Once a patient's heartbeat is restored, ice and other cooling methods are quickly applied to the unconscious patient. The goal is to lower a patient's body temperature by about six degrees to limit brain damage. The patient is then kept at 92 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours before slowly being warmed back up to a normal temperature.
Therapeutic or induced hypothermia works by protecting the brain and other vital organs. It lowers oxygen requirements, decreases swelling and limits the release of damaging toxins that can cause cells to die.
The effect is profound. Central Baptist is already using this technique. Doctors and nurses have reported that cardiac arrest patients who would previously have been given up for dead have been revived and discharged to return to their families and jobs, with all or nearly all of their cognitive abilities intact.