How to know if you are at risk of sudden cardiac death

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Researchers discover the 12 risk factors that could lead to an untimely demise

Many of us may take our health for granted if we’ve never had any serious medical issues, but one particular condition can strike seemingly without warning. Hundreds of thousands of Americans succumb to sudden cardiac death (SCD) every year, making it one of the leading causes of death in the country. Due to the unexpected nature of these deaths, experts have had trouble figuring out which factors put an individual at risk.

However, researchers taking part in a recent study have finally managed to crack this mystery. Using data from multiple public health cohorts, they have found 12 independent risk markers that can predict if someone is more likely to pass away due to SCD.

“Sudden cardiac death is a significant public health concern, and the rates of decline have not paralleled those observed for other cardiovascular conditions such as heart attack or stroke,” said Dr. Rajat Deo, lead author of the study. “The American Health Association and American College of Cardiology developed a risk equation for determining generalized cardiovascular risk in 2013, but this is the first time an SCD-specific prediction model has been developed and validated.”

12 risk factors

SCD is especially dangerous because there are often very few or no warning signs. While the medical community has previously found that individuals with a history of cardiovascular disease were at risk, that is hardly enough to go on for determining whether or not it will happen to you.

In order to find out more, Dr. Deo and his colleagues set out to investigate which common factors people shared who had died due to SCD. They used data on nearly 18,000 adults over the age of 45 who had participated in two National Institute of Health (NIH)-funded studies.

After analyzing participants to find similarities, the researchers found 12 risk factors that most victims of SCD had in common. These factors included similar age, male sex, African American race, being a current smoker, systolic blood pressure levels, use of antihypertensive medication, HDL levels, and being diabetic. Similar scores on measures of serum potassium, serum albumin, estimated GFR, and QTc interval were also factors.

Providing targeted information

The researchers believe that their findings provide the first step towards specifically helping people with high risk of SCD. By examining populations to see how many high-risk individuals reside in a specific area, the researchers say that medical professionals can be better equipped to provide optimal care.

“Our findings provide a strong step toward distinguishing SCD risk across the general population and can help target future strategies at SCD prevention for the highest risk subgroups of the general population. What’s more, use of this risk model could lead to pinpointing specific communities with higher risk populations, ideally leading to increased training and awareness for emergency medical staff, volunteers and the general public in those regions,” said Deo.

The full study has been published in the journal Circulation

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