Lack of Awareness of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Leads to Increased Risk of Death For African Americans, Warns Heart Rhythm Society

By | October 23, 2012

Lack of awareness and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) puts African Americans at greater risk of death from the condition, according to a new national survey released today by the Heart Rhythm Society (HRS). The survey findings uncovered significant perception gaps between healthcare providers and consumers when it comes to understanding the condition, its symptoms, risk factors and treatments. Responsible for more than 350,000 U.S. deaths each year, SCA occurs when the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. Approximately 95 percent of SCA cases result in death; however, it is proven most deadly in African Americans.

The new study, conducted by HRS with Ipsos Healthcare, found African Americans are significantly less familiar with sudden cardiac arrest, with only 18 percent able to correctly identify the condition, compared with 24 percent of the general population. More than sixty percent of African Americans who reported experiencing heart disease symptoms report not going to the doctor as a result. In addition, ninety percent of African Americans say their doctor has not talked to them about their risk for SCA. These considerable disparities impact the immediate, life-saving treatments needed to prevent the deadly condition.

To reverse these inequalities and increase the dialogue between patients and physicians, HRS today launched a nationwide public education campaign in partnership with the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) and Shaun Robinson, Emmy-award winning journalist and weekend co-anchor and correspondent for “Access Hollywood.” Coined “Arrest the Risk,” the initiative is designed to overcome the barriers to proper diagnosis and treatment of SCA through educational resources, an SCA symptom tracker available on, as well as a powerful public service announcement featuring Robinson. Additionally, HRS and ABC will conduct specific educational initiatives in cities with a high prevalence of SCA.

“Racial disparities in the prevention and treatment of sudden cardiac arrest result in too many preventable deaths. The first step toward reducing these substantial discrepancies is to treat the underlying causes and manage the various risk factors,” said Walter Clair, MD, MPH, FHRS, electrophysiologist, Vanderbilt Heart and Vascular Institute, Nashville. “However, to bridge the gap, both at-risk consumers and their physicians must better understand the signs and symptoms of SCA, and physicians must translate evidence-based treatment guidelines, including the use of indicated medical devices, into their everyday clinical practice.”

Treatment guidelines recommend implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs) as the standard of care for patients at risk for SCA, yet half as many African Americans as Caucasians or Hispanics say that ICDs are the best way to treat SCA. Indeed, studies show that the use of these devices and other innovative cardiovascular technologies are less common among African Americans. As a result, a large percentage of high-risk patients are not receiving these treatments, leading to a greater likelihood of death.

The HRS/Ipsos Healthcare study also surveyed 300 physicians (primary care physicians, cardiologists and electrophysiologists) in the U.S. regarding their awareness of SCA as well as their treatment and referral history. Results of the survey showed that many physicians are unaware of the significant deadly impact of SCA. Nearly half of physicians (49 percent) did not identify SCA as the condition that poses the greatest risk to Americans today, even though SCA claims more lives each year than stroke, breast cancer, lung cancer or AIDS. When asked to assess a case study, the majority of PCPs do not identify “at risk” patients, even when three or more risk factors are apparent. In addition, only half of primary care physicians believe ICDs are the standard of care for patients at risk.

“By offering insight into the incidence of the condition, addressing diagnosis and treatment related challenges faced by healthcare professionals and working to ensure the implementation of guideline-based care, we can ensure that all patients – regardless of their race, gender or age – receive access to the best possible cardiac care,” said Ola Akinboboye, MD, MPH, MBA, President, ABC. “The Association of Black Cardiologists is proud to partner with HRS to lead this innovative, educational effort that sheds light on the current disparities in care, while also working on practical education to help eliminate these healthcare inequalities.”

“Since my grandfather and some other family members have suffered from heart disease, this is a condition that is very personal to me. However, I didn’t realize that this family history means I could be at increased risk for sudden cardiac arrest,” said Robinson. “Because SCA is so deadly, it is absolutely critical to talk to your doctor because early intervention can literally save your life.”

About the Arrest the Risk Campaign
“Arrest the Risk” is a nationwide public education campaign from the Heart Rhythm Society in partnership with the Association of Black Cardiologists (ABC) and Emmy-award winning journalist Shaun Robinson. The initiative is designed to overcome the barriers to proper diagnosis and treatment of SCA. Additional information and resources are available at

About the Survey
In August 2012, the Heart Rhythm Society worked with Ipsos Healthcare to conduct a 20-minute online survey of more than 1,500 adult consumers and 300 physicians in the U.S. A representative sample of Caucasian, African American and Hispanic consumers were surveyed, as well as asample of three types of physicians– primary care physicians (PCPs) including those in general practice, family practice and internal medicine; cardiologists; and electrophysiologists (EPs), who are cardiac arrhythmia specialists. The survey aimed to help HRS identify current awareness levels and perceptions of sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).