A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan has found that critically ill COVID-19 patients are more susceptible to cardiac arrest, a development that might help guide end-of-life care discussions in people severely affected by the coronavirus infection. The researchers calculated the incidence, risk factors, and outcomes associated with in-hospital cardiac arrests.

Their findings, published in the journal The BMJ, are based on data of 5,019 critically ill patients — aged 18 years or over — with COVID-19 admitted to the intensive care units (ICUs) at 68 hospitals across the US.

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“Our study data could help inform patients, family members, and clinicians in complex decision making about patients with COVID-19, who are at risk of cardiac arrest or who have experienced cardiac arrest,” the scientists said.

According to the study, 14% of the patients had in-hospital cardiac arrest within 14 days of admission to ICU, of whom only 57% received cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or CPR, an emergency life-saving procedure that is done when someone’s breathing or heartbeat has stopped.

Patients who had in-hospital cardiac arrest were older, had more underlying health conditions, and were more likely to be admitted to a hospital with fewer intensive care unit beds.

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However, the scientists also said that hospital resources, staffing, expertise, strain, or other factors, not captured in this study, could have had a major impact.

Survival also differed by age, with more than a fifth of the patients younger than 45 years surviving compared with three per cent of those aged 80 or older.

Citing the limitations of the research, the scientists said they were unable to assess the quality and timeliness of CPR, and the limiting data to the first 14 days after intensive care unit admission.