Sneaky and Sudden Killer

Pneumonia patients at risk for cardiac arrest while in hospital

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Some health problems can come out of nowhere, even under the watchful eye of a doctor. Hospital patients can be suddenly hit by a complication that seems separate from the reason they were put in the hospital in the first place.

This may be too common of a problem for patients in the hospital for pneumonia - a type of lung infection.

Researchers found that hospital patients with pneumonia may be at risk of losing heart function - a medical emergency known as sudden cardiac arrest. These patients may be hit with cardiac arrest with little to no warning.

"Watch out for pneumonia when in the hospital."

Gordon Carr, M.D., from the University of Chicago Medical Center and lead investigator of the study, admits that the findings do not show what causes cardiac arrest in pneumonia patients. Using the American Heart Association's Get with the Guidelines database, researchers looked for cases of cardiac arrest among hospital patients with pre-existing pneumonia.

Having said that, the key finding of the study, says Carr, was that these patients suffer cardiac arrest without shock or loss of breathing, two of the main signs for cardiac arrest. In addition, most of these cardiac arrests happen outside of hospital intensive care units.

If hospital staff is focused only on patients who show signs of cardiac arrest, then they may miss opportunities to help other high risk patients who do not shown signs, says Carr. He adds that the decision to put a patient in intensive care should be more proactive, rather than a reaction to symptoms.

Carr adds that future research should focus on what causes sudden cardiac arrest to happen in some pneumonia patients without warning. Researchers should also look into ways to measure and reduce the risk of this deadly problem, Carr concludes.

The Study

  • Researchers found 44,416 cases of cardiac arrest that happened within 72 hours of being admitted to the hospital
  • 5,367 (12.1 percent) of these cases happened to patients with pneumonia
  • Nearly 40 percent of these pneumonia patients suffered a cardiac arrest outside of an intensive care unit
  • 40 percent of pneumonia patients were receiving mechanical help with their breathing when they suffered cardiac arrest
  • 36.3 percent of pneumonia patients were receiving vasoactive medications - drugs that increase or decrease blood pressure and/or heart rate - at the time of cardiac arrest
  • Survival rates were low for pneumonia patients who suffered cardiac arrest within 72 hours of being admitted to the hospital 
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 17, 2011
Last Updated:
May 18, 2011