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Limited English May Be Life-Threatening

FRIDAY, April 24 -- Having limited knowledge of English can be dangerous for people having a heart attack, new research shows.

People who have limited English proficiency were less likely to have a bystander come to their aid with CPR, faced a greater delay in receiving CPR because dispatchers took longer to recognize the need, and were less likely to survive.

The findings stem from an analysis of data on 906 confirmed cases of cardiac arrest, or the abrupt stoppage of the heart, that occurred away from hospital settings in Kings County, Wash., between June 1, 2004, and October 31, 2007.

About 6 percent of 911 callers had limited English, according to the research, which was to be presented Friday at the American Heart Association's 10th Scientific Forum on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research in Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke in Washington, D.C.

Among the findings:

  • About 50 percent of those with limited English received help from a bystander, compared with 73 percent of those fluent in English.
  • It took dispatchers an average of 79 seconds to recognize a need for CPR when the caller had limited English, compared with 46 seconds for those fluent in English.
  • Among callers attempting CPR with dispatcher instructions, the interval from receiving the call to initiating CPR was 246 seconds for those with limited English and 164 seconds for English-fluent callers.

The delays translated into a lower survival rate, the study found. Just 4 percent of those with limited English survived and were discharged from the hospital, compared with 14 percent of fluent English speakers.

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Posted: April 2009