Millions of people watched in horror as Damar Hamlin, a young and healthy NFL player, suddenly collapsed during a game. Although we have learned a great deal about the causes and risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest, one important aspect of this event remains under-discussed: the psychological effects of cardiac arrest.
This life-threatening event can have far-reaching and long-lasting effects on the psychological well-being of both survivors and their key supporters (partners, close family etc). That’s why Alexander Presciutti and his colleagues at the Center for Health Outcomes and Interdisciplinary Research (CHOIR) are working to shed light on this issue and improve the recovery process for survivors and their families.
The Impact of Cardiac Arrest on Survivors and Key Supporters
Presciutti and his team conducted an online survey of 169 cardiac arrest survivors and 52 caregivers. They found that nearly a quarter of the survivors (24.9%) and more than a third of the key supporters (34.6%) showed significant post-traumatic stress symptoms. Additionally, 21.3% of survivors and 21.2% of key supporters reported significant depression, and 29.6% of survivors and 36.5% of key supporters reported significant anxiety.
These findings are concerning, as previous studies have shown that early elevated post-traumatic stress symptoms in cardiac arrest survivors are associated with a three-fold greater likelihood of experiencing major adverse cardiovascular events and increased mortality within one year of discharge. Furthermore, this study shows that symptoms persist in survivors for years after the event, and there is growing evidence that depression and anxiety can negatively impact health outcomes and increase the risk of morbidity and mortality.
The Lived Experience of Cardiac Arrest Survivors
To gain a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by survivors of cardiac arrest, Presciutti and his team conducted in-depth interviews with 15 survivors. The study revealed several key themes, including feeling unprepared, surprise at non-cardiac symptoms, and a sense of being “lost” due to a lack of resources and information.
Nearly every survivor reported feeling unprepared for survivorship, lacking the resources and education they needed to understand the recovery process and manage their symptoms. Many survivors reported being surprised by the non-cardiac symptoms they experienced, such as memory problems, fatigue, and disorientation. They felt that more information and support would have helped them navigate this difficult time.
The psychological effects of sudden cardiac arrest are far-reaching and long-lasting. Survivors and their key supporters can experience significant levels of post-traumatic stress, depression, and anxiety, which can negatively impact their health outcomes and quality of life.
To help improve the recovery process for survivors and their families, it’s essential to address these psychological effects and provide education and support to help them navigate this difficult time.
To read some of the research in this article, please see Alex Presciutti’s page on the American Heart Association journal.
After our first meet-up in February 2015, I realised I was not alone. It was the first time since my cardiac arrest the previous year that I had spoken face-to-face with someone who had experienced what I had. This was also true for my wife, who also happened to be my lifesaver. From that meet-up, the idea of SCA UK was born. Since then, we have achieved a considerable amount, primarily providing information, resources and support to others in a similar situation but also raising the profile of survivorship and the need for better post-discharge care. We are starting to get traction in this, and with the formation of the charity, I genuinely believe we have a bright future ahead and will make a significant difference in the lives of many who join our ranks.