Cardiac arrest witnessed by emergency medical services personnel: descriptive epidemiology, prodromal symptoms, and predictors of survival. OPALS study group

V J De Maio, I G Stiell, G A Wells, D W Spaite
Annals of Emergency Medicine 2000, 35 (2): 138-46

STUDY OBJECTIVE: The Utstein guidelines recommend that emergency medical services (EMS)-witnessed cardiac arrests be considered separately from other out-of-hospital cardiac arrest cases. The objective of this study was to assess EMS-witnessed cardiac arrest and to determine predictors of survival in this group.

METHODS: This prospective cohort included all adults with an EMS-witnessed cardiac arrest in the 21 communities of the Ontario Prehospital Advanced Life Support (OPALS) study. Systems provided a basic life support with defibrillation (BLS-D) level of care. Case and survival definitions followed the Utstein style. Descriptive and univariate methods (chi(2) and t test) were used to characterize EMS-witnessed cardiac arrest. Multivariate logistic regression was undertaken to assess predictors of survival to hospital discharge.

RESULTS: From January 1, 1991, to December 31, 1996, there were 9,072 cardiac arrest cases in the study communities. Of these, 610 (6.7%) were EMS-witnessed. The majority had preexisting cardiac or respiratory disease (81.5%) and experienced prodromal symptoms before EMS personnel arrived (91.4%). An initial rhythm of pulseless electrical activity was present in 50.1% of the patients, ventricular fibrillation/ventricular tachycardia in 34.2%, and asystole in 15.7%. Survival to discharge was 12.6%. Multivariate analysis identified the following as independent predictors of survival (odds ratio with 95% confidence intervals [CIs]): nitroglycerin use before EMS arrival: 2.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 4.5), prodromal symptoms of chest pain: 2.5 (95% CI 1.4 to 4.5) or dyspnea: 0.5 (95% CI 0.3 to 1.0), and unconsciousness on EMS arrival: 0.5 (95% CI 0.2 to 0.9). Patients with chest pain were more likely than dyspneic patients to experience ventricular fibrillation/ventricular tachycardia (62% versus 17%, P<.0001), and were 5 times more likely to survive (30.6% versus 6.3%, P<.0001).

CONCLUSION: EMS-witnessed cases are clearly an important subset of out-of-hospital cardiac arrest and are characterized by 2 distinct symptom groups: chest pain and dyspnea. These symptoms are important predictors of survival and may also help determine underlying mechanisms before patient collapse. A later phase of the OPALS study will prospectively evaluate the impact of out-of-hospital advanced life support on the survival of victims of EMS-witnessed cardiac arrest.

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