Living in high-rise flat 'reduces chance of surviving a heart attack at home'

Study finds those living 16 floors or higher have almost no chance of surviving a cardiac arrest

A growing number of Britons living in high rise flats, many tempted by the stunning views of their surrounding areas, are placing themselves at greater risk of dying if they suffer a heart attack at home.

For survival rates drop the higher up people live. And those living 16 floors or higher have almost no chance of surviving a cardiac arrest, according to new research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

The main reason is the time it takes to get to heart attack victims, with “an absolute decrease in survival of 7% to 10% for each 1-minute delay,” according to the study. Researchers from St Michael's Hospital, Toronto, looked at almost 8,000 people who had suffered cardiac arrest at home between 2007 and 2012. 

Of those living below the third floor, 4.2 per cent survived. But only 2.6 per cent of people living higher up survived. The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, discovered that there was a survival rate of just 0.9 per cent in those living above the 16th floor. And of 30 people who suffered cardiac arrest and lived higher than the 25th floor, none survived.

“Longer time from the arrival of 911-initiated first responders on scene to patient contact is one potential explanation for lower survival on the higher floors,” says the study. “As more high-rise buildings are built, in response to the demand for affordable condominiums and rental properties, the negative impact on community survival may increase,” it warns.

The results will be unwelcome news for the rising number of people living in tower blocks across Britain. In England alone, the number of high rise flats rose from 338,000 in 2008 to 480,000 in 2013, according to the most recent figures from the English Housing Survey. 

“Interventions aimed at shortening response times to treatment of cardiac arrest in high-rise buildings may increase survival,” states the Canadian research. Installing defibrillators in tower blocks “by placing the devices on specific floors, in building lobbies or inside elevators,” is suggested as a way of improving the chances for heart attack victims. Other recommendations include making sure that emergency services have sole access to lifts when needed, and ensuring that building staff are alerted before an ambulance arrives.

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