Sudden Cardiac Death

Sudden cardiac death syndrome (SCDS) is a medical condition in which a person’s heart stops beating suddenly and unexpectedly, leading to death within a few minutes. SCDS is usually caused by an abnormal heart rhythm called ventricular fibrillation, which prevents the heart from pumping blood effectively.
There are several underlying factors that can increase the risk of SCDS, including:

Coronary artery disease

The most common reason in older people (>40 years) is a heart attack.

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Inherited conditions

Some inherited conditions such as hypertrophy cardiomyopathy, long QT syndrome, Brigade syndrome, and arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVC) can increase the risk of SCDS. These conditions often affect very young patients who are otherwise healthy and are therefore devastating for the patient and his family. In addition, these conditions tend to be inherited, so other members of the family could be affected as well.


Electrolyte imbalances

Very low or high levels of potassium or magnesium in the blood can disrupt the heart’s normal electrical activity and increase the risk of SCDS.

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Structural heart disease

Patients with impaired heart function (heart failure) are at higher risk of having sudden cardiac death. This may require implanting an ICD (implantable defibrillator) to protect the patient from sudden death if an arrhythmia is to occur.


Electrical abnormalities

Electrical abnormalities in the heart, such as Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, can rarely increase the risk of SCDS.


Drug use

Certain drugs such as cocaine, amphetamines, and some prescription drugs can increase the risk of SCDS

Treatment for SCDS typically involves cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and defibrillation to restore normal heart rhythm. Preventive measures to avoid these episodes may include taking or avoiding some medications, and lifestyle changes. In some cases, when the risk of serious arrhythmia in the future is deemed to be high, an implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs) to monitor and correct abnormal heart rhythms will be implanted.

Fig 31 defib
Fig 32 ICD
If you or a member of your immediate family has been affected by sudden cardiac death, it is very important to have a thorough assessment by an electrophysiologist to make sure that you are not at higher risk of developing a dangerous arrhythmia.