Effects of prehospital medications on mortality and length of stay in congestive heart failure

Richard C. Wuerz, Steven Meador

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

77 Scopus citations


Hypothesis: Prehospital medications for congestive heart failure should affect hospital outcomes (survival and length of stay). Study design: In a retrospective case series, hospital outcomes were compared for patients treated with prehospital nitroglycerin, furosemide, and/or morphine (252) versus those given no medications (241). Setting: A rural/suburban emergency medical services system (population 140,000) served by three paramedic units. Participants: Four hundred ninety-three consecutive cases of congestive heart failure or pulmonary edema were identified by hospital discharge diagnosis from a data base of 8,315 paramedic transports with known outcome. Interventions: Oxygen was given by protocol to 489 patients. Other medications were given by order of on-line physician medical command. Results: Overall mortality was 10.9% (54 of 493). Treated and untreated patients were comparable in age, sex, cardiac rhythms, prior use of cardiac medications, and response and scene times; mortality was reduced in treated versus untreated patients (odds ratio for improved survival, 2.51; 95% confidence interval, 1.37 to 4.55; P < .01). Positive treatment effect was greatest for 58 nonhypotensive, critical patients (odds ratio for survival, 10.25; P < .01). No single drug combination was unique in terms of treatment benefit. Patients treated in the field received medications 36 minutes earlier than patients first treated in the emergency department. No survival benefit was evident for noncritical, nonhypotensive patients, and patients with final diagnoses of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, or bronchitis had a higher than expected mortality if erroneously treated for congestive heart failure. Differences in hospital length of stay were not significant for any group. Conclusion: Prehospital medications improve survival in congestive heart failure, especially in critical patients. More than one combination of medications seems effective, and early treatment is associated with improved survival. However, these medications appear to increase mortality in patients misdiagnosed in the field. Factors used in paramedic and medical command assessments require further study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)669-674
Number of pages6
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jan 1 1992

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Emergency Medicine


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