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Heart Disease Health Center

Heart Rate Reveals Risk of Sudden Death

Test May Show Heart-Rate Abnormalities in Seemingly Healthy Men
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Raising the Risk

Each of those heart-rate problems raised the men's risk of sudden death from cardiac arrest. Sudden death occurs when the heart abruptly loses its capacity to pump. The electrical impulses in the heart become rapid or irregular (arrhythmia).

  • An increased resting heart rate nearly quadrupled the men's risk.
  • Men with hearts that were sluggish during exercise were 6.2 times more likely to experience sudden death.
  • Those with hearts that had trouble slowing down after exercise had roughly double the risk of sudden death.

After adjusting for other risks, "these three factors remained strongly associated with risk of sudden death," writes Jouven, who works in the cardiology department of Paris' Hôpital Euopéen Georges Pompidou.

The three heart-rate problems were also linked to a "moderate but significant" risk of death from any cause. However, they weren't associated with nonsudden heart attack deaths. (Heart attacks can cause sudden death but don't always).

'Powerful Predictor' of Sudden Death

Heart rate during exercise and recovery is "a powerful predictor of the risk of sudden death" in seemingly healthy men, say researchers.

Such tests could help doctors identify and treat high-risk men, they note.

Smoking, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and depression (especially in heart disease patients) have also been shown to be heart hazards.

Many of those risk factors can be improved. For instance, exercise, stress control, and a healthy diet can help; so can medications, when needed. Doctors can assess your risk and outline your options. Seek immediate help if you sense any heart problems.

What to Do

The American Heart Association statement on preventing heart attacks and deaths from coronary disease recommends 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity activity three to four times a week in addition to lifestyle changes.

Knowing how to take your heart rate (pulse) at rest can help.

Calculating your peak (or maximum) heart rate can be done by using the following formula:

220 - Your Age = Predicted Maximum Heart Rate

Example: a 40-year-old's predicted maximum heart rate is 180.

Once you've determined your maximum heart rate you can then easily figure out your exercise heart rate. This is 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate depending on the intensity of exercise. Your doctor may recommend a lower exercise heart rate depending on your health.

So the 40-year-old with a maximum heart rate of 180 should exercise at a heart rate between 108 and 144.

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