Archive for June, 2007

Nurse, get that oxygen out of here… stat!

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007

Remember how doctors used to recommend that people take up smoking to calm their nerves? Nope? Fair enough - I wasn’t born back then either. Here’s a more current and equally fascinating example of yesterday’s cure being tomorrow’s poison - this article suggests that the state of the art in resuscitation techniques could be bass ackwards:

Consider someone who has just died of a heart attack. His organs are intact, he hasn’t lost blood. All that’s happened is his heart has stopped beating—the definition of “clinical death”—and his brain has shut down to conserve oxygen. But what has actually died?

As recently as 1993, when Dr. Sherwin Nuland wrote the best seller “How We Die,” the conventional answer was that it was his cells that had died. The patient couldn’t be revived because the tissues of his brain and heart had suffered irreversible damage from lack of oxygen. This process was understood to begin after just four or five minutes. If the patient doesn’t receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation within that time, and if his heart can’t be restarted soon thereafter, he is unlikely to recover. That dogma went unquestioned until researchers actually looked at oxygen-starved heart cells under a microscope. What they saw amazed them, according to Dr. Lance Becker, an authority on emergency medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “After one hour,” he says, “we couldn’t see evidence the cells had died. We thought we’d done something wrong.” In fact, cells cut off from their blood supply died only hours later.

But if the cells are still alive, why can’t doctors revive someone who has been dead for an hour? Because once the cells have been without oxygen for more than five minutes, they die when their oxygen supply is resumed.

With this realization came another: that standard emergency-room procedure has it exactly backward. When someone collapses on the street of cardiac arrest, if he’s lucky he will receive immediate CPR, maintaining circulation until he can be revived in the hospital. But the rest will have gone 10 or 15 minutes or more without a heartbeat by the time they reach the emergency department. And then what happens? “We give them oxygen,” Becker says. “We jolt the heart with the paddles, we pump in epinephrine to force it to beat, so it’s taking up more oxygen.” Blood-starved heart muscle is suddenly flooded with oxygen, precisely the situation that leads to cell death.

Standard disclaimer: This is a copy and paste straight from jwz. This lazy form of chinese whisper syndication comes with no fact checking. Hope you find it interesting.