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Heart Disease and Sudden Cardiac Death

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What Are the Risk Factors of Sudden Cardiac Arrest?

There are many risk factors that can increase a person's risk of sudden cardiac arrest and sudden cardiac death, including the following:

  • Previous heart attack with a large area of the heart damaged (75% of SCD cases are linked to a previous heart attack).
  • A person's risk of SCD is higher during the first 6 months after a heart attack.
  • Coronary artery disease (80% of SCD cases are linked with this disease).
  • Risk factors for coronary artery disease include smoking, hypertension, family history of heart disease, and high cholesterol.

Other risk factors of sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • Ejection fraction of less than 40%, particularly in combination with ventricular tachycardia
  • Prior episode of sudden cardiac arrest
  • Family history of sudden cardiac arrest or SCD
  • Personal or family history of certain abnormal heart rhythms, including long or short QT syndrome, Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, extremely low heart rates, or heart block
  • Ventricular tachycardia or ventricular fibrillation after a heart attack
  • History of congenital heart defects or blood vessel abnormalities
  • History of syncope (fainting episodes of unknown cause)
  • Heart failure: a condition in which the heart's pumping power is weaker than normal. Patients with heart failure are 6 to 9 times more likely than the general population to experience ventricular arrhythmias that can lead to sudden cardiac arrest
  • Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a thickened heart muscle that especially affects the ventricles
  • Significant changes in blood levels of potassium and magnesium (from using diuretics, for example), even if there is not underlying heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Recreational drug abuse
  • Taking drugs that are "pro-arrhythmic" may increase the risk for life-threatening arrhythmias

 

Can Sudden Cardiac Death Be Prevented?

If you have any of the risk factors for sudden cardiac death (listed above), it is important that you speak with your doctor about possible steps to reduce your risk.

Keeping regular follow-up appointments with your doctor, making certain lifestyle changes, taking medications as prescribed, and having interventional procedures or surgery (as recommended) are ways you can reduce your risk.

Follow-Up Care With Your Doctor: Your doctor will tell you how often you need to have follow-up visits. To prevent future episodes of sudden cardiac arrest, your doctor will want to perform diagnostic tests to determine what caused the cardiac event. Tests may include electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), ambulatory monitoring, echocardiogram, cardiac catheterization, and electrophysiology studies.

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