When a child's heart stops, onset time of abnormal rhythms is crucial

Ventricular fibrillation, the life-threatening disordered heart rhythms that may accompany full cardiac arrest, occurs more frequently in children than commonly believed, according to a large national pediatric study.

Furthermore, not all ventricular fibrillation (VF) is the same, said study co-investigators Vinay Nadkarni, M.D., and Peter A. Meaney, M.D., M.P.H., specialists in Critical Care Medicine at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They added that VF is more likely to be fatal if it is not the initial heart rhythm detected at the start of cardiac arrest, but instead develops later during the arrest, typically during resuscitation.

A research team from the American Heart Association's National Registry of Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) analyzed records from more than 1,000 children who suffered cardiac arrests while in the hospital. The largest study by far of outcomes from VF in children, it appears in the June 1 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers from Children's Hospital and from the University of Arizona led the study, which included records from 159 participating hospitals.

"This landmark in-hospital study challenges prevailing paradigms in pediatric cardiac critical care," said senior author Robert A. Berg, M.D., of the Steele Children's Research Center at the University of Arizona. "Abnormal rhythms were thought to be uncommon during cardiac arrests in children, occurring less than 10 percent of the time, but we found the occurrence to be 27 percent. When physicians applied shocks promptly from defibrillators, many of these children survived, and the vast majority of the survivors have good neurological outcomes."

"Secondly," continued Dr. Berg, "we learned that cardiac arrests due to initial shockable rhythms often have good outcomes, whereas cardiac arrests with shockable rhythms developing during resuscitation typically have poor outcomes. Now we have to learn what we can do to improve

Contact: John Ascenzi
Children's Hospital of Philadelphia

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