Published: 03 October 2013

Surrey research questions conventional heart attack treatment

New study suggests giving oxygen to people having a heart attack could do more harm than good.

For 100 years, inhaled oxygen has been a standard treatment for those with a suspected or confirmed heart attack. But new research by academics from the University of Surrey, in collaboration with researchers from City University London, the University of Birmingham and colleagues in Spain, suggests a lack of evidence to support this common practice.

A heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction, is often the first manifestation of coronary heart disease, which kills more than seven million people worldwide every year and is the leading cause of death in the UK and the US. Timely and appropriate intervention during a heart attack can make a significant difference to survival.

The research team first reviewed the topic of oxygen therapy in 2010, when they called for more research to find out whether oxygen was useful or harmful. 

Their latest findings, published as a Cochrane Review, saw researchers systematically search for all high quality randomised controlled trials that compared oxygen and air, and undertake a meta-analysis. The review found:

  • Only four trials of oxygen were available (involving a total of 430 participants)
  • There were 17 deaths in total and more than twice as many people given oxygen died compared to those given air in these trials

This result is not statistically significant, but shows there is still a clear need for more research into the use of oxygen therapy for the treatment of acute myocardial infarction.

Professor Tom Quinn, Associate Dean, Health and Medical Strategy, said: “While the changes to international guidelines for heart attack following our 2010 review are welcome, this new review suggests that we still do not have an evidence-based answer, based on an adequately powered and well conducted randomised trial, to confirm to clinicians and patients the role of oxygen therapy in heart attack treatment.  It is likely that a global collaboration will be required to deliver such a trial.”




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