Study: 89% of athletes survive cardiac arrest with AED use

It’s well-known that automated external defibrillators (AEDs) can be a life-saving tool to treat cardiac arrhythmias, but a new study from the University of Washington (UW) underscores just how crucial accessible AEDs can be during competitive sporting events.

Researchers studied 132 cases of sudden cardiac arrest occurring across a two-year span in the United States. The overall survival rate for the athletes—who were 16 years old on average—was 48 percent. However, survival improved to 89 percent when an AED was available onsite and used during resuscitation.

“Exercise-related sudden cardiac arrest is almost always a survivable event when you have prompt recognition by witnesses, proper resuscitation and an AED close by,” lead study author Jonathan Drezner, MD, the director of UW Medicine’s Center for Sports Cardiology, said in a press release. “Forty-eight percent is far better than the overall survival rate for sudden cardiac arrest in the U.S. But this data tells me that a lot of young athletes we should be saving are dying.”

The authors, who published their findings Sept. 11 in the journal Sports Health, also found survival improved to 83 percent when a certified athletic trainer was onsite and involved in resuscitation efforts. They noted white athletes had the highest odds of living through the event (60 percent), followed by blacks (33 percent) and Hispanics (20 percent).

“We can hypothesize that the reason is that there are more minorities in schools with fewer resources, and socioeconomic disparities result in fewer AEDs and athletic trainers onsite in schools mostly populated by minority students,” Drezner said. “We’re trying to get more granular details about this racial disparity to bring it to light so we can change it.”

According to the release, Drezner has advocated for more public funding to get AEDs in high schools in Seattle and Washington state and has set up free electrocardiogram screenings for thousands of high school athletes. He said educating coaches and trainers on the signs of cardiac arrest could also facilitate proper responses to these life-threatening events.

“We should be better prepared than we are. These are our kids,” Drezner said.