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Cardiac death task force reports

Filed under: News/Events - Posted on Friday, March 3rd, 2006 @ 4:00 pm

ACCESS to vital life-saving equipment is “a post code lottery” claimed the mother of the former Tyrone Gaelic football captain, Cormac McAnallen.
Bridget McAnallen was speaking at the publication of a report on sudden cardiac death which coincided with the second anniversary of her son’s death. She said screening of young people participating in sport was essential as it could alert them of the need to alter or regulate their lifestyle.

However, a special task force on sudden cardiac death has advised the Government that there is insufficient evidence to support the introduction of a mass population screening programme. It is estimated that 5,000 Irish people die from sudden cardiac death each year, including 60 people under the age of 40.

The task force was established in 2004 following public concern about the death of several high-profile young sports stars including Cormac McAnallen. However, the task force claimed that mass population screening programmes could lead to large numbers of normal young people being needlessly excluded from participating in sport and physical activity.

Chairman of the task force, Dr Brian Maurer of the Irish Heart Foundation, said risk assessment tests for the general population would not be sufficiently sensitive and could also provide a substantial number of false positive results.

However, Dr Maurer said the report strongly recommended that relatives of people aged 40 or less who suffered sudden cardiac death should be prioritised in being assessed for risk.

The Task Force makes a total of 75 recommendations designed to reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death of which it urges implementation of 46 specific measures before the end of 2006.

Among the key proposals is the introduction of greater risk assessment for the immediate relatives of anybody who has already suffered coronary heart disease or sudden cardiac death.

Anyone over 14 who is engaged in regular physical activity is encouraged to complete a risk assessment questionnaire, with individuals perceived at risk being advised to consult a cardiac specialist. Sports clubs are also being urged to provide their members with similar questionnaires.

The report also recommends a series of measures to improve response times to people who experience sudden cardiac collapse including the provision of more defibrillators and training for their use.

It is estimated that survival from sudden cardiac death is less than 1% without any emergency treatment such as the use of a defibrillator.

Survival rates increase to 50% if a defibrillator can be accessed within five minutes of a cardiac arrest.

Launching yesterday’s report, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Mary Harney, said it was clear from its findings that reducing the number of sudden cardiac deaths in Ireland presented a major challenge.

“The Health Service Executive will now be tasked with ensuring that the report’s recommendations are implemented,” she said. The Tánaiste said the task report had unanimously concluded that a national screening programme would have no major impact on tackling the problem. She stressed that self-assessment had a key role to play in reducing risk.

Ms Harney also pointed out that the Department of Health had provided a special budget of €300,000 this year for equipment and training in use of defibrillators.

The Tánaiste said she hoped Cormac McAnallen’s family would view the report as “the starting point” for putting in place appropriate responses to sudden cardiac deaths.

“His death led to a huge emotional response. People were shocked because the assumption is that if you’re young and fit and healthy, that you don’t die from heart failure,” she observed.

However, Ms Harney stressed that the vast majority of such tragedies still occurred in middle-aged and elderly adults with only 2% of all sudden cardiac deaths affecting people under 40.

Sudden cardiac death – the facts

* 5,000 Irish people die from sudden cardiac arrest on average each year. Less than 60 cases of sudden cardiac death (SCD) involved people aged 40 and under.

* 80% of SCDs are linked to coronary heart disease. No medical cause can be found in 5% of SCDs.

* Less than 1% of people who suffer cardiac arrest survive without effective resuscitation. There is a 50% chance of survival if a defibrillator can be accessed within five minutes.

* The average cost of a defibrillator is €2,000. Training on its use takes three hours.

By Seán McCárthaigh
(Irish Examiner, 3 March 2006)

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