El Paso Emergency Personnel Helps Advance Understanding of Treatment for Heart Attack Symptoms

El Paso was one of 13 communities nationwide that participated in an innovative study supported by the National Institutes of Health’s (NIH) National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute involving a glucose-insulin-potassium (GIK) solution for patients experiencing heart-attack symptoms like chest pains.

According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), researchers found that the intravenous medication of patients with GIK within the first hour did not prevent a heart attack. However, promising results showed that the severity of the heart attack was lessened and there were fewer cardiac arrests or deaths in patients who received the GIK solution versus a placebo.

Compared to 10 percent of the heart muscle being lost to heart attack in the placebo group, in those receiving GIK, only 2 percent was lost. Also, compared to 9 percent of patients with placebo having cardiac arrest or dying, in the GIK group 4 percent had cardiac arrest or died, a reduction of more than 50 percent.

For the patients who presented with ST-elevation heart attacks and need immediate intervention, the placebo group had heart attacks that consume 12 percent of the heart muscle, versus 3 percent in those who received GIK. In this group, cardiac arrest or mortality occurred in 14 percent among those receiving placebo, versus 4 percent in those with GIK. The GIK treatment was administered in the ambulance and continued during the hospitalization for 12 hours. The cost of the treatment is about $50.

Under the local direction of Robert Woolard, M.D., with the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center (TTUHSC) Department of Emergency Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and with involvement of local hospitals, the El Paso Fire Department and local paramedics, people who called 9-11 with symptoms of a heart attack from 2008 through 2011 were evaluated for enrollment in the study. This study is the first NIH-sponsored, large scale clinical trial conducted in El Paso.

“El Paso Fire Department EMS personnel were a key part of the study that has demonstrated that the severity of heart attacks can be reduced by the early administration of a simple solution of glucose-insulin-potassium.” Woolard said. “Hundreds of thousands of patients across the nation die from heart attacks each year. Our community was part of an important investigation that yielded promising results for patients locally and across the country.”

The findings of the study were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting in Chicago and were simultaneously published online in JAMA. This national study was led by Tufts Medical Center in Boston, under the direction of Harry P. Selker, M.D., principal investigator and executive director of the Institute for Clinical Research and Health Policy Studies at Tufts Medical Center, and Joni Beshansky, R.N., MPH, co-principal investigator and project director.

“When started immediately in the home or on the way to the hospital — even before the diagnosis is completely established — GIK appears to reduce the size of heart attacks and to reduce by half the risk of having a cardiac arrest or dying,” Selker said. “Acute coronary syndromes represent the largest cause of death in this country. GIK is a very inexpensive treatment that appears to have promise.”

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