Background: The potential impact of efforts in Europe to improve survival from out-of-hospital cardiac arrest is unclear, in part, because estimates of incidence and survival are uncertain. The aim of the investigation was to determine a representative European incidence and survival from cardiac arrest in all-rhythms and in ventricular fibrillation treated by the emergency medical services (EMS).
Methods and results: We used Medline to identify peer-reviewed articles published between 1 January 1980 and 30 June 2004 that reported a European community's EMS cardiac arrest experience. Inclusion criteria required the study to include at least 25 cases, report of the total number of all-rhythm and/or ventricular fibrillation arrests, and information about population size and study duration. The incidence was computed by dividing the total number of events by the product of the community's population and the study duration. Reports from 37 communities met the inclusion criteria. A total of 18,105 all-rhythm EMS-treated cardiac arrests occurred during 48 million person-years of observation, resulting in an overall incidence for all-rhythm arrests of 37.72 per 100,000 person-years. Incidence of ventricular fibrillation arrest was 16.84 per 100,000 person-years. Survival was 10.7% for all-rhythm and 21.2% for ventricular fibrillation cardiac arrest. Applying these results to the European population, approximately, 275,000 persons would experience, all-rhythm cardiac arrest treated by the EMS with 29,000 persons surviving to hospital discharge.
Conclusion: The results provide a framework to assess opportunities and limitations of EMS care with regard to the public health burden of cardiac arrest in Europe.