Gym Defibrillators Rare, Study Says

Airplanes, federal buildings and even shopping malls today have on hand life-saving devices to shock hearts back into normal rhythm. So you'd assume health and fitness clubs, where people routinely stress their hearts through vigorous exercise, would have them at the ready.

Not so.

Only 3% of 122 randomly selected health clubs in Ohio had automatic external defibrillators, according to a survey in the July issue of CHEST, published by the American College of Chest Physicians. The devices regulate an erratic heart rhythm, called ventricular fibrillation, which leads to 225,000 cases of sudden cardiac arrest each year. The survival rate is less than 5%.

In its litany of inadequacies, the study found that 53% of the clubs kept no written plans on hand for handling medical emergencies, while 92% failed to conduct emergency response drills.

In addition, although 52% of the clubs offered special programs for older adults and cardiac patients, only 28% of them screened members first for signs, symptoms or history of cardiovascular disease.

"Patients with cardiac disease are 10 times more likely to suffer a cardiac event during exercise than healthy people," said Dr. Robert G. Johnson, a surgery professor at St. Louis University and president of the chest physicians' group.

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