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Autopsy of all young sudden death cases is important to increase survival in family members left behind.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is an important public health problem worldwide, accounting for an estimated 6 to 20% of total mortality. A significant proportion of SCD is caused by inherited heart disease, especially among the young. An autopsy is crucial to establish a diagnosis of inherited heart disease, allowing for subsequent identification of family members who require cardiac evaluation. Autopsy of cases of unexplained sudden death in the young is recommended by both the European Society of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. Overall autopsy rates, however, have been declining in many countries across the globe and there is a lack of skilled trained pathologists able to carry out full autopsies. Recent studies show that not all cases of sudden death in the young are autopsied, likely due to financial, administrative, and organizational limitations as well as awareness among police, legal authorities, and physicians. Consequently, diagnoses of inherited heart disease are likely missed, along with the opportunity for treatment and prevention among surviving relatives. This article reviews the evidence for the role of autopsy in sudden death, how the cardiologist should interpret the autopsy-record and how this can be integrated and implemented in clinical practice. Finally, we identify areas for future research along with potential for healthcare reform aimed at increasing autopsy awareness and ultimately reducing mortality from SCD.

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