An advertising campaign that informed people about the early warning signs of cardiac arrest has saved some 1300 Victorian lives, a study has found.
The campaign, run by the Heart Foundation between 2009 and 2013, covered a few different approaches to spreading the message about the importance of acting on the early warning signs of cardiac arrest but perhaps the most remembered was the hard-hitting TV ad that would have filled most Australian homes in 2011.
Brightly lit TV screens flicked to grey while a man in his mid-40’s told the story about how he died from his heart attack, retracing his steps as he experienced each seemingly innocuous symptom – an aching jaw, a shortness of breath, a tightness in his chest – that could have saved his life had he not ignored them.
“I wish I could have my heart attack again” is the title of the advertisement.
Paramedic and Clinical Researcher at Ambulance Victoria Ziad Nehme who headed a study that examined the impact of the public health message on cardiac arrest outcomes told the limbic that the campaign prevented one in six deaths from cardiac arrest across Victoria.
Mr Nehme said the study showed that the campaign was powerful enough to influence people’s behaviour around taking action – and taking it quickly – when they first develop symptoms of cardiac arrest.
“The biggest barrier to accessing care or accessing care quickly is getting patients to respond to their early symptoms in a reasonable amount of time.
“Our thinking was that if we are able to influence people’s behaviour around taking action and taking it quickly when they first develop symptoms then we might be able to reduce the incidence of cardiac arrest.”
The researchers from Ambulance Victoria and Monash University’s School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine analysed all cardiac arrest cases recorded by the Victorian Ambulance Cardiac Arrest Registry (VACAR) during the months of campaign activity and the months without.
“On any given month the average affect of campaign activity was a 6% reduction in the incidence of cardiac arrest and when we looked at the data over the entire four year period of the campaign we found a 16% reduction in the incidence of cardiac arrest and a 17% reduction in events associated with cardiac arrest – that’s one in 6 deaths from cardiac arrest that have been prevented in that four year period in comparison to the six years both before and after the campaign,” Mr Nehme said.
The study also revealed that at the end of 2013 when the campaign wrapped up, there was a marked increase in cardiac arrest cases across the state.
“We actually saw a 7% increase in the incidence of cardiac arrest after the campaign finished and that’s important because we know that just because you’ve delivered a message it doesn’t necessarily mean that people remember it they need to be constantly reminded.”
Interventional Cardiologist Dr Dion Stub, who wasn’t involved in the study but who spoke to the limbic said the findings show that there is huge potential to prevent a significant number of cardiac arrests by increasing community awareness about warning signs.
“Australia has some of the best pre hospital and in hospital systems of care but the chances that you survive a cardiac arrest are less than 20% so anything that helps just a little to get treatment early is going to have massive affects on survival – If you can prevent a cardiac arrest happening you’re saving an enormous number of lives.”
“Unfortunately people still think that symptoms are going to be dramatic – crushing chest pains and sweats – but most of the time warning symptoms are subtle and people thinking they’re just becoming more lethargic and fatigued while some people put it down to ageing so increasing people’s awareness, that they need to get these subtle symptoms looked at, is critical,” Dr Stub said.