STUDY OBJECTIVES: To assess the incidence of acute mechanical causes precipitating sudden cardiac arrest in cardiac surgery patients during the immediate postoperative period. In addition, we report the success rate of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) in which open-chest CPR was employed at an early stage of the resuscitation effort. METHODS: Data on all cardiac surgical patients who suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during the first 24 h after surgery were collected prospectively. CPR consisted of conventional closed-chest CPR initially and was followed within 3 to 5 min, if needed, by open-chest CPR. RESULTS: Of 3,982 patients undergoing cardiac surgery over a 30-month period, 29 patients (0.7%) had a sudden cardiac arrest. Of these, 13 patients (45%) were successfully resuscitated with closed-chest CPR, 14 (48%) with open-chest CPR, and 2 (7%) died despite closed- and open-chest CPR. Four CPR survivors died subsequently in the ICU, yielding an overall hospital discharge rate of 79%. Perioperative myocardial infarction was the underlying cause of sudden cardiac arrest in 14 patients (48%), and mechanical impediments to cardiac function (tamponade or graft malfunction) in another 8 (28%) patients; in the remaining 7 patients (24%), no underlying cause was found. The length of ICU stay was 6+/-1 (mean+/-SE) days. None of the patients developed wound infection and all were neurologically intact at hospital discharge. CONCLUSION: Mechanical factors account for a substantial portion (28%) of causes of sudden cardiac arrest occurring in hemodynamically stable patients during the immediate postoperative period. This high incidence, in conjunction with the high survival rate achieved by open CPR, supports an early approach to open-chest CPR in this group of patients.
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