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Posted: 3/29/2011

Physical fitness facilities are valuable businesses that provide communities with the facilities, education, and, perhaps,  inspiration to get fit and stay healthy throughout life. However, those very health clubs created to increase their patrons health, may pose an increased risk for patron fatalities. After all, it is not only the healthy committed that rise early to sweat it out before work; the fitness elite are often joined by a legion of Americans trying to regain their health.  Both the visibly healthy and those with a few extra pounds may be at a surprisingly high risk for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA).

As was demonstrated by the number of notable young athlete deaths recently, anyone is at risk for cardiac arrest, an epidemic that claims the lives of more than 350,000 people per year in the U.S. Cardiac arrest can be caused by a number of diagnosed and undetected conditions alike, but is, essentially, an electric problem with the heart that results in an abnormal heart rhythm.

The heart is its own electrical stimulator and it depends upon regular electrical stimulation to coordinate ventricular contraction and pumping of blood through the body.  When the sinus anode fails to produce a steady electric signal, an arrhythmia results and the heart’s ventricles don’t contract correctly, causing death within minutes. The most common arrhythmia leading to cardiac arrest is ventricular fibrillation – where rapid, erratic electrical impulses cause the ventricles to quiver uselessly.

For health enthusiasts with congenital heart disease or any number of other conditions – such as a valvular heart - exercise -induced ventricular tachycardia, or VT, can occur. VIT is a potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmia that originates in the heart’s ventricles and produces a dangerously rapid heartbeat.  Along with ventricular fibrillation – which almost anyone of any age and apparent state of health is prone to – VT can lead to cardiac arrest

While cures are sought for genetically passed heart and vascular diseases, automated external defibrillators, or AED’s, provide an proven means of fighting back against cardiac arrest. AED’s supply an electric shock known as defibrillation to the heart of cardiac arrest victims and in over 60% of the cases are successful at restoring a normal heartbeat. However, calling an ambulance and waiting for the EMT’s is often too little too late, since the chances of surviving a cardiac arrest diminish by 10% every minute the heart is not pumping – which means that after 10 minutes very few live to tell the story.

Best of all, AED’s are available for schools, churches, businesses, organizations and even individuals to purchase, and are remarkably affordable for life-saving medical machines.  A quality AED, for example, can be purchase online from retailers like HeartSafe America or AED-SHOP.com (www.aed-shop.com) for around $1300.

Given the prevalence and availability of these machines, you might assume that they are commonly placed in health clubs, and while that is true for some facilities, thousands of clubs are still unprotected.  Most fitness clubs require an application fee, but do not have a portable defibrillator available and do not screen for pre-existing heart conditions.

In 2004, Illinois became the first state in the nation to require placement of AED’s in physical fitness facilities.  At the time Governor Rod R. Blagojevich commented on the legislation he signed, stating that “Prompt use of an AED may restore the heart to a normal rhythm and can more than double a person’s change of survival. It makes sense that we make this life-saving technology available in more public places, particularly in places where there is strenuous cardiovascular exertion.  The Illinois mandate required facilities to have at least one AED, have a trained AED user, develop a written plan to deal with medical emergencies, and file the plan with the Illinois department of Public Health (IDPH).

Mr. Blagojevich also provided a suitable summary for what matters when considering AED requirements.  “When seconds count, access to a defibrillator can be the difference between life and death. This…is about possibly saving the life of a loved one”, he stated. “By making AED’s more accessible in public places we will be able to save lives.”

Seven years later AED’s remain the best means of saving a cardiac victim. For those attending health clubs and working diligently to improve the quality of your health and life, check to be sure that your facility has a current AED program. By spreading awareness of the risk of cardiac arrest and need for AED’s, we can help save lives.

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