Epidemiology and stratification of risk for sudden cardiac death

Philip J Podrid, Robert J Myerburg
Clinical Cardiology 2005, 28 (11): I3-11
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a major cause of mortality in the United States. Approximately 65% of cases of SCD occur in patients with underlying acute or chronic ischemic heart disease. The incidence of SCD increases 2- to 4-fold in the presence of coronary disease and 6- to 10-fold in the presence of structural heart disease. Ventricular fibrillation (VF) precipitated by ventricular tachycardia (VT) is a common mechanism of cardiac arrest leading to SCD. Triggers for SCD include electrolyte disturbances, heart failure, and transient ischemia. Although a large percentage of patients with out-of-hospital SCD do not survive, successful resuscitation to hospitalization has improved in recent years. One of the challenges for preventing SCD lies in identifying individuals at highest risk for SCD within a lower-risk population. The progression from conventional risk factors of coronary artery disease to arrhythmogenesis and SCD can be represented as a cascade of changes associated with levels of increasing risk. At the first level is atherogenesis, followed by changes in atherosclerotic plaque anatomy, which may be mediated by inflammatory processes. Disruption of active plaque formed during a transitional state initiates the thrombotic cascade and acute occlusion, after which acute changes in myocardial electrophysiology become the immediate trigger for arrhythmogenesis and SCD. Each level of the cascade offers different opportunities for risk prediction. Among the classes of risk predictors are clinical markers, such as ECG measures and ejection fraction. Transient risk markers, such as inflammatory markers, are potentially useful for identifying triggers for SCD. In the future, genetic profiling is expected to allow better assessment of individual risks for SCD.

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