Can longer CPR attempts save lives in hospitals?

Sep 11, 2012

A new study suggests that longer CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) attempts in the hospital could save lives. 

How many lives?  That's unclear, but it would be at least in the hundreds, if not a few thousand.

Cardiac arrest is a common occurrence in hospitals.  As many as 250,000 patients's hearts stop beating in the nation's hospitals each year.

Doctors are successful in reviving those patients only about half the time - and only about 20% of the patients are ever released from the hospital.  That's because so many of the patients are already gravely ill.

There's no consensus or standard for how long to perform CPR before declaring a person dead. 

A new study suggests longer attempts might be better than shorter.  The University of Michigan study examined data for more than 64,000 cardiac arrest patients between the years 2000 and 2008.

Brahmajee Nallamothu is a cardiologist at the University of Michigan.

He says hospitals that did CPR for 25 minutes, as opposed to stopping after 15, sent about two percent more people home alive.

That's not a lot, although it likely means a whole lot to the people who otherwise wouldn't have lived.

But Nallamothu says the study is NOT a recommendation for longer CPR attempts in all cases.

"Because it depends on so many things," he says.  "It depends on the patient -- it depends on why they arrested -- it depends on how they're doing, during the arrest."

And Nallamothu says it may be that the hospitals that performed longer CPR also did other interventions, or did the CPR better, and that could account for the better survival numbers.

He says more research is needed, before there would be enough evidence to agree on a standard.

Nallamothu says the study is reassuring to hospitals that may have been performing shorter CPR for fear that doing it longer would result in more brain damage.

He says hospitals that performed longer CPR had no greater incidence of brain damage in surviving patients.