High-Rise Living May Make Emergency Help a Challenge


If you live in a city, chances are good that you own or rent an apartment and while you might have picked the place for it’s great location or view of the surrounding area, you probably didn’t think too much about how that choice would affect your health. A team of researchers from Canada has put high-rise living to the test this week by looking at how the floor you live on affects your likelihood to survive if your heart suddenly stops at home. Their results published this week might give you pause to think next time you’re on the market for a new place.

Why might your heart stop and how often do people survive?

Cardiac arrest, when the heart suddenly stops for a variety of reasons, happens to about 40,000 people a year in North America. That means it’s fairly uncommon, especially for those not at risk, but it’s still a very dangerous condition that leads to death without rapid medical help. The heart can stop for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the cause is a heart condition a person was born with, other times a problem with the electrical circuitry of the heart, and still other times the result of a chronic disease a person might have. Whatever the reason, the key predictor in whether or not someone survives is how fast they got help. For every minute a person goes without medical support, their chances of living drop by five to 10 percent. This is why many people get trained in performing CPR and also why you see automatic external defibrillator (AED) machines in many public places. Starting CPR and using an AED can get blood circulating until potentially life-saving medical help arrives. But even with AEDs and people trained in CPR, only about one in 10 people survive a cardiac arrest.

How do high-rise buildings factor in?

As cities have expanded, more and more people have moved into high-rise buildings and, as a result, more and more emergency calls are being made from apartments in those buildings. In Canada, where the team conducted their research, more than one in three homeowners over 65 years old live in high-rise apartments. That means that people who often have the most medical problems and who are most likely to call for emergency help are also only accessible at the end of a potentially long elevator ride. Unlike pulling up to a regular home, EMTs responding to a call may have to walk farther to get into the lobby of the building, may experience delays waiting for an elevator, and may have more trouble getting access to the building in the first place. Since time is precious when it comes to cardiac arrest, the authors wondered if which floor a person lived on might change how likely a person is to survive if their heart stops because it could change how much time it takes for help to arrive.

How did the authors study the effect of high-rise living on survival?

The study was what’s called a retrospective, observational study, which means the authors looked back at medical data that had been gathered on patients in the past and analyzed it to see if they could find any patterns. The researchers chose people presumed to have a heart condition as the cause for their cardiac arrest who also lived in high-rise buildings in Toronto, Canada. In total, 8,216 people were included in the study. They then looked at what floor each person lived on and looked to see how likely people living on certain floors were to survive cardiac arrest.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that you were less and less likely to survive cardiac arrest the higher up in a building you lived. Overall, only one in 26 people survived to be discharged from the hospital. However, if you lived on the third floor or below, your chances were better at around one in 24 people. If you lived above the third floor, your chances were a measly one in every 38 people. Your chances were even worse if you happened to have a cardiac arrest above the third floor of a townhouse or house, with only one out of every 74 surviving. The team thinks this could be both from how long it takes to get into the apartment and how long it takes to get out, especially if stairs are involved. Past studies have shown that a lot of time can be spent trying to get those in trouble out of an apartment building, which delays hospital treatment and may interfere with CPR efforts.

How does this apply to me?

It’s impossible to know if and when cardiac arrest will happen, but some people are at higher risk than others. If you or your loved one is at risk for cardiac arrest, you might consider an apartment closer to the ground floor next time you move. On top of that, there were two other factors that improved survival: starting CPR early and getting medical help. Friends and family of someone at risk should all be trained in CPR and shouldn’t hesitate in calling 911 and starting CPR if they think something is wrong. Both of these measures might just save someone’s life.

The post High-Rise Living May Make Emergency Help a Challenge appeared first on The Oz Blog.

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