Call to make sudden cardiac arrest a national health priority in USA

13 August 2008

The US National Medical Association (NMA) has called for changes in the prevention and treatment paradigm for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

The NMA has released a white paper that outlines directives for elevating SCA to a national health priority and bringing it to the forefront of the policy discussion.

This white paper, Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Advancing Awareness and Bridging Gaps to Improve Survival [1], is based on input from more than 50 of the nation's leading cardiac care professionals, government officials and patient advocates during the 2008 SCA Leadership Conference held in April by the NMA.

Sudden cardiac arrest claims more than 300,000 lives every year in the US. It is estimated that 95% of its victims die before reaching a hospital or emergency help, even though nearly 75% show signs of a previous heart attack and 80% show signs of coronary artery disease.

Dr Nelson Adams, NMA Immediate Past-President and program chair said, "Sudden cardiac arrest is a leading cause of death in the United States. Particularly alarming is that it disproportionately affects African-Americans."

"Disparities in care for patients that are at risk for SCA, as indicated in the rates found among African American women are unacceptable," said newly elected NMA President, Carolyn Barley-Britton, MD.

Thought leaders who contributed to the white paper agreed that a successful change in SCA health outcomes requires continual involvement from community and health leaders, and the vital next step is implementation of programs and policies that will positively impact health outcomes. The white paper's call to action summarises important next steps to make SCA a national health priority, and includes:

  • developing clinical performance measures for SCA prevention;
  • raising awareness of SCA among consumers and healthcare professionals;
  • increasing professional education on SCA;
  • encouraging policymakers to establish SCA as a public health priority;
  • creating cultural proficiency in prevention and treatment of SCA to combat health disparities; and
  • enlisting insurers to increase support of SCA prevention and treatment in all populations.

"Our goal is to raise awareness of the risk of SCA and galvanize healthcare professionals, researchers, patient advocates, policy makers and payors into action to reduce disparities in both primary and secondary prevention of the disease," said Dr. Mohammed Ahkter, Executive Director of the NMA.

About sudden cardiac arrest

Sudden cardiac arrest is an abrupt loss of heart function (cardiac arrest). All known heart diseases can lead to cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death. Most of the cardiac arrests that lead to sudden death occur when the electrical impulses in the diseased heart become rapid (ventricular tachycardia) or chaotic (ventricular fibrillation) or both. This irregular heart rhythm (arrhythmia) causes the heart to suddenly stop beating.


1. National Medical Association. Sudden Cardiac Arrest: Advancing Awareness and Bridging Gaps to Improve Survival. Washington, 2008
The white paper is available from the NMA website
Download the paper directly (as PDF document):

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