May 6, 2011— -- Have you ever checked to see whether your local bowling alley or dance studio has an automatic external defibrillator?
Its presence if someone suffers sudden cardiac arrest could mean the difference between life and death, according to research presented Thursday at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting.
In cases of cardiac arrest, an automatic external defibrillator (AED) is a potentially lifesaving device that can analyze the heart's electrical activity and, if appropriate, shock it back to a normal rhythm. The device has pads that are placed on a person's chest. A voice built into the machine can give rescuers step-by-step instructions.
While AEDs are everywhere from health clubs to offices, other places where people engage in physical activity are probably overlooked, said Dr. Richard Page, chair of the department of medicine at University of Wisconsin and co-author of the study.
"I think we need to consider exercise to be happening at a lot of different places," said Page. "The need for an AED should be recognized at not just traditional exercise facilities."
The study, which looked at data from 960 older adult patients in Seattle who had sudden cardiac arrest, found that some of the most common places where patients experienced sudden cardiac arrest included dancing studios and bowling alleys.
Page said that bowlers in general might not be as physically active, which could lead to a higher risk of sudden cardiac arrest. Dancing, he said, requires strenuous aerobic exercise, which can also increase the risk.
"Anybody who's watched 'Dancing with Stars' can see that even those who train hard are always huffing and puffing at the end of their routine," he said.
ABC News' Medical Unit randomly surveyed 13 different dance studios across the nation and found that most did not have AEDs.
Nearly 300,000 Americans die from sudden cardiac arrest each year, according to the American Heart Association.
Unlike a heart attack, which takes place when a blood vessel supplying the heart muscle is blocked, sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the heart abruptly stops beating or shifts to an irregular fatal beat.
Previous studies suggest that AEDs are more effective than CPR -- manual cardiopulmonary resuscitation. Page said administering an AED may be easier than performing CPR for some who are not trained.
Exercise facilities that provide AEDs could almost double a person's chance of survival compared to other indoor facilities with AEDs, according to the study.
However, the presence of AEDs is only as good as those who use them during emergencies, said Page.
"An AED is better than nothing if you don't know how to do CPR," he said.