Traumatic cardiac arrest: who are the survivors?

Ann Emerg Med. 2006 Sep;48(3):240-4. doi: 10.1016/j.annemergmed.2006.03.015. Epub 2006 Apr 27.


Study objective: Survival from traumatic cardiac arrest is poor, and some consider resuscitation of this patient group futile. This study identified survival rates and characteristics of the survivors in a physician-led out-of-hospital trauma service. The results are discussed in relation to recent resuscitation guidelines.

Methods: A 10-year retrospective database review was conducted to identify trauma patients receiving out-of-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The primary outcome measure was survival to hospital discharge.

Results: Nine hundred nine patients had out-of-hospital cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Sixty-eight (7.5% [95% confidence interval 5.8% to 9.2%]) patients survived to hospital discharge. Six patients had isolated head injuries and 6 had cervical spine trauma. Eight underwent on-scene thoracotomy for penetrating chest trauma. Six patients recovered after decompression of tension pneumothorax. Thirty patients sustained asphyxial or hypoxic insults. Eleven patients appeared to have had "medical" cardiac arrests that occurred before and was usually the cause of their trauma. One patient survived hypovolemic cardiac arrest. Thirteen survivors breached recently published guidelines.

Conclusion: The survival rates described are poor but comparable with (or better than) published survival rates for out-of-hospital cardiac arrest of any cause. Patients who arrest after hypoxic insults and those who undergo out-of-hospital thoracotomy after penetrating trauma have a higher chance of survival. Patients with hypovolemia as the primary cause of arrest rarely survive. Adherence to recently published guidelines may result in withholding resuscitation in a small number of patients who have a chance of survival.

MeSH terms

  • Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation*
  • Heart Arrest / complications
  • Heart Arrest / mortality*
  • Heart Arrest / therapy*
  • Humans
  • Hypovolemia / complications
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Survival Rate
  • Thoracotomy
  • Wounds and Injuries / complications