Sudden Cardiac Arrest May Have Early Warning Signs
Study of men highlights importance of seeking medical help for chest pain, shortness of breath
The researchers also reviewed the accounts of family members, witnesses, emergency medical personnel and medical records from the time period around the cardiac arrest.
In the remaining cases, 53 percent had symptoms that ranged from episodes of chest pain to feeling like they had the flu.
Although the data helps point to the importance of recognizing symptoms and seeking help, Chugh said, there are still more questions than answers. For many people with early symptoms of potential heart problems, doctors' exams may not show anything definitive.
"We're trying to improve the scope of a complete [cardiac] work-up, but there are big gaps in what we know," Chugh said. "What happens in the hour before cardiac arrest? What about in the 24 hours before, the week before or the month before?"
Part of the challenge is that a variety of problems may trigger sudden cardiac arrest. Depending on genetic, anatomical and other factors, people may respond differently.
"We are teasing out a million different variables at this point," Chugh said. "The nature of heart disease isn't so different from cancer. There's a genetic component ... and then there are clinical factors and some lifestyle factors."
The study results do not apply to women, and more research is needed, Chugh said. "Women are different in so many ways," he said.
The research supports current recommendations for anyone having these kinds of symptoms -- especially chest pain, shortness of breath and dizziness -- to seek medical attention, UCLA's Fonarow said. "Many people don't follow these recommendations and they delay," he said. "Their health may really be at stake."
Chugh agreed. "We have not educated men in middle age very much, and we need to do that," he said.
Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.