Surviving a cardiac arrest can often seem like a matter of luck.
But one factor plays a crucial role: the racial makeup of your neighborhood.
Compared to people in predominantly white neighborhoods, those who live in predominantly black areas are much less likely to receive CPR or defibrillation from a bystander when their heart suddenly stops beating at home or out in the community.
In primarily white neighborhoods, almost 47 percent of people received help, but in black neighborhoods the rate was just 18 percent – regardless of the race of the sufferer.
It means people in black neighborhoods have a worse chance of survival, according to a study published today in JAMA Cardiology.
Experts warn it shows there is a lack of education about how to perform CPR in African American neighborhoods, as well as a lack of defibrillators.
We need more CPR training: Experts warn there is a lack of CPR training and defibrillators available in African American communities, meaning fewer people get help in a cardiac arrest
‘We have known that there are differences in the rates of survival from cardiac arrest between blacks and whites,’ said lead author Dr Monique Starks, a cardiologist at Duke University’s Clinical Research Institute.
‘But it was surprising to see how the demographics of a neighborhood affected outcomes of residents who experience cardiac arrest.
‘This is absolutely a call to action to improve and expand CPR training and defibrillator access.’
The researchers analyzed cardiac arrest data from seven US cities: Birmingham, Dallas-Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Portland, Seattle, and Milwaukee.
US Census data were used to provide demographic information at the neighborhood level.
The researchers analyzed more than 22,000 cases in which cardiac arrest occurred in a non-hospital setting over a four-year period between 2008-11.
Neighborhoods where out-of-hospital cardiac arrests occurred were classified by census tract, based on percentage of black residents, ranging from fewer than 25 percent, between 25-50 percent, between 51-75 percent, and more than 75 percent.
Those in predominantly black neighborhoods were slightly younger and more frequently female than those in white areas.
They also had lower rates of initial shockable rhythm, and less frequently experienced their heart event in a public location.
Overall, nearly 40 percent of people who suffered a cardiac arrest outside of the hospital received bystander CPR.
Use of an automated external defibrillator was similarly disproportionate by racial composition of the neighborhood.
In mostly white neighborhoods, 4.5 percent of cardiac arrest victims received defibrillation from a bystander, compared to 0.9 percent in black neighborhoods.
Neighborhood make-up was also associated with survival.
People with cardiac arrest in mixed- to majority- black neighborhoods had significantly lower adjusted survival rates at hospital discharge, the researchers found.
‘We clearly see that treatments and outcomes for patients with cardiac arrest in black neighborhoods are worse than those in white neighborhoods,’ Dr Graham Nichol, director of the University of Washington-Harborview Center for Prehospital Emergency Care, said.
‘We then asked does it matter if you were black or white within those neighborhoods?
‘Our observations were reassuring. It actually does not matter if you are black or white within the neighborhood, but the neighborhood matters.’
That finding, the researchers noted, points to a lack of education about cardiac arrest and CPR in general among people living in black neighborhoods, along with a dearth of defibrillators in public spaces.
‘This is something that can be addressed,’ Dr Starks said.
‘Organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross, along with medical centers and public health departments, have a unique opportunity to address this issue with dedicated education programs that are particularly tailored for black neighborhood.
‘This is a relatively low-cost solution that could save lives.’