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Sudden Cardiac Death

The World Health Organisation
Defines sudden death as “sudden, unexpected, non-violent death within one hour of symptom onset (witnessed) or within 24 hours of having been observed alive and symptom free”.

What causes sudden cardiac death?

  • Above 35 years of age, the most common cause of sudden cardiac death is coronary artery disease (blockage of the blood vessels that supply the heart with oxygen).

  • Under 35 years of age, the most common cause of sudden cardiac death is “undetermined” or “unascertained” i.e. after a comprehensive postmortem (also called an autopsy), the pathologist was unable to work out why the person died.

  • A study from Australia and New Zealand examined the cause of death in young people aged 35 years and under. Forty percent (40%) of young people who pass away suddenly have no cause of death identified postmortem this is often called an “undetermined” or “unascertained” cause of death.

  • One possibility of an undetermined cause of death can be a rhythm problem of the heart, causing cardiac arrest. Some rhythm problems are genetic.

  • In other cases, a cause of death is identified at postmortem. These are often problems with the structure of the heart. Some of these structural problems are genetic.

  • When there is a possibility of a genetic cause of death (rhythm or structural problem of the heart), it is recommended immediate family members visit a heart specialist (cardiologist) for clinical screening (heart checks).

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