Survival after in-hospital cardiac arrest was roughly one-third lower in patients with COVID-19 infections compared to uninfected patients, based on data from nearly 25,000 individuals.
Survival rates of less than 3% were reported in the United States and China for patients who suffered in-hospital cardiac arrest (IHCA) while infected with COVID-19 early in the pandemic, but the data came from small, single-center studies in overwhelmed hospitals, wrote Saket Girotra, MD, of the University of Iowa, Iowa City, and fellow American Heart Association Get With the Guidelines–Resuscitation Investigators. Whether these early reports reflect the broader experience of patients with COVID-19 in hospitals in the United States remains unknown.
In a study published as a research letter in, the researchers reviewed data from the American Heart Association Get With the Guidelines–Resuscitation registry. The registry collects detailed information on patients aged 18 years and older who experience cardiac arrest at participating hospitals in the United States. The study population included 24,915 patients aged 18 years and older from 286 hospitals who experienced IHCA during March–December 2020. The mean age of the patients was 64.7 years; 61.1% were White, 24.8% were Black, 3.8% were of other race or ethnicity, and 10.3% were of unknown race or ethnicity.
The primary outcomes were survival to discharge and return of spontaneous circulation (ROSC) for at least 20 minutes.
A total of 5,916 patients (23.7%) had suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infections, and infected patients were more likely to be younger, male, and Black. Patients with COVID-19 infections also were significantly more likely than noninfected patients to have nonshockable rhythm, pneumonia, respiratory insufficiency, or sepsis, and to be on mechanical ventilation or vasopressors when the IHCA occurred, the researchers noted.
Survival rates to hospital discharge were 11.9% for COVID-19 patients, compared with 23.5% for noninfected patients (adjusted relative risk, 0.65; P < .001). ROSC was 53.7% and 63.6%, for infected and noninfected patients, respectively (aRR, 0.86; P < .001).
COVID-19 patients also were more likely than noninfected patients to receive delayed defibrillation, the researchers said. “Although delays in resuscitation, especially defibrillation, may have contributed to lower survival, the negative association of COVID-19 with survival in this study was consistent across subgroups, including patients who received timely treatment with defibrillation and epinephrine.”
The extremely low survival rate in early pandemic studies likely reflected the overwhelming burden on health systems at the time, the researchers said in their discussion.
The study findings were limited by several factors, including potential confounding from unmeasured variables, the use of a quality improvement registry that may not reflect nonparticipating hospitals, and potential false-positive COVID-19 cases. However, the result support findings from recent studies of multiple centers and extend clinical knowledge by comparing infected and noninfected patients from a larger group of hospitals than previously studied, the researchers said.
“We believe that these data will be relevant to health care providers and hospital administrators as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” they concluded.
Think beyond COVID-19 for cardiac care
“Early during the pandemic, questions were raised whether COVID-19 patients should be treated with CPR,” Dr. Girotra said in an interview. “This was because initial studies had found a dismal survival of 0%-3% in COVID patients treated with CPR. The potential of transmitting the virus to health care professionals during CPR further heightened these concerns. We wanted to know whether the poor survival reported in these initial studies were broadly representative.”
Dr. Girotra said that some of the study findings were surprising. “We found that of all patients with IHCA in 2020 in our study, one in four were suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19 infection. We were surprised by the magnitude of COVID’s impact on the cardiac arrest incidence.”
The implications for clinical decision-making are to think outside of COVID-19 infection, said Dr. Girotra. In the current study, “Although overall survival of cardiac arrest in COVID-positive patients was 30% lower, compared to non-COVID patients, it was not as poor as previously reported. COVID-19 infection alone should not be considered the sole factor for making decisions regarding CPR.
“Over the past 2 decades, we have experienced large gains in survival for in-hospital cardiac arrest. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has eroded these gains,” said Dr. Girotra. “Future studies are needed to monitor the impact of any new variants on cardiac arrest care,” as well as studies “to see whether we return to the prepandemic levels of IHCA survival once the pandemic recedes.”
Dr. Girotra has no relevant financial disclosures.