Sudden Cardiac Arrest is a Family Matter

We have previously highlighted the factors that put you at risk of coronary artery disease (see post here). Among these factors, we identified family history as one of the leading contributors to sudden cardiac arrest.

A new Danish study released in November 2012, has provided additional details, and demonstrates a direct link between family history and SCA.

Research indicates that relatives of young sudden cardiac death victims appear to have a much greater risk of cardiovascular disease than the general population.

During 11-years of follow-up and tracking sudden cardiac death victims, there were 292 incidents of cardiovascular disease among those with relatives who suffered sudden cardiac death, compared to 219 incidents in the background population, representing a 33 percent increase.

Researchers found the risks were particularly high when the relative who suffered cardiac arrest was younger than 35. The findings suggest a large hereditary component of sudden cardiac death.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest

“Since the cardiovascular conditions on which we focused are treatable, early identification of at-risk persons is potentially a life-saving action,” wrote Mattis Flyvholm Ranthe, MD, of the Statens Serum Institute in Copenhagen. “Our findings are the first of their kind and support the initiation of cascade screening in families experiencing a sudden cardiac death, with customization of screening based on the underlying condition suspected to have caused the death and family member ages.”

Many of the risks linked to sudden cardiac arrest include:

  • Smoking
  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Alcohol (more than one to two drinks per day)
  • Age (after 45 for men and 55 for women)
  • Being male (2-3 times the risk)

However, previous studies have shown numerous links to sudden cardiac arrest through genetic mutations, including primary arrhythmia syndromes (electrical malfunctions), cardiomyopathies (heart muscle deterioration), familial hypercholesterolemia (elevated cholesterol levels), and ischemic heart disease (poor blood supply to the heart).

Further Details

To explore the link between family history and sudden cardiac arrest, researchers performed a prospective, population-based cohort study using Danish national registries. They identified 470 individuals ages 1 to 35 years who suffered a sudden cardiac death from 2000 to 2006, and 3,073 relatives.

  • Compared with the general population, the relatives had a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease during follow-up
  • First-degree relatives — parents, children, siblings — had a greater risk of cardiovascular disease compared with second-degree relatives, such as half-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren etc…
  • Risks were particularly high for first-degree relatives younger than 35
  • The risks among the relatives were greater when the initial sudden cardiac death was verified by autopsy.

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention

Sudden Cardiac Arrest Prevention

At this time there is no definite way to gauge the likelihood of suffering a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA), so reducing the risk is your best strategy. Steps to take include regular checkups, screening for heart disease, and living a heart-healthy lifestyle with the following approaches:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Only use alcohol in moderation
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced diet
  • Stay physically active

Dietary Prevention

A growing body of research supports the role of lifestyle measures in protecting against this sudden, silent killer. Given the serious outcome of this disease, scientists are now looking to diet as one of the most promising primary prevention strategy.

The most important line of defense is adopting heart-healthy lifestyles that can guard against heart disease in the first place.

The urgency of preventive approaches takes on even more meaning when you consider that most victims of SCA weren’t identified as being at risk in the first place.

The results of a study published in a 2011 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that 81 percent of cases of SCA were due to unhealthy lifestyles.

The study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that a Mediterranean-style diet, when combined with other healthful habits, such as maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, and exercising, provided a 92 percent reduced risk of SCA.

The researchers evaluated data from the Nurses’ Health Study, which included information from more than 81,000 women over 26 years.

healthy food

Key findings:

  • Women who ate a diet closest to the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, nuts, omega-3 fats, and fish; moderate in alcohol; and light in red meat, had a 40 percent lower risk than women whose diets least resembled the Mediterranean diet
  • Normal-weight women had a 56 percent reduced risk compared with obese women
  • The more the women exercised, the smaller their risk; at least 30 minutes of exercise per day lowered the risk by 28 percent
  • Smoking was the biggest factor: Women who had never smoked had a 75 percent decreased risk than women who smoked at least 25 cigarettes per day

The American Heart Association stresses the following approaches for the general population to achieve ideal cardiovascular health:

  • Fruits and vegetables: at least 4.5 cups per day
  • Fish (preferably oily fish): at least two 3.5-oz servings per week
  • Fiber-rich whole grains: at least three 1-oz-equivalent servings per day
  • Sodium: less than 1,500 mg per day
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages: no more than 450 kcal (36oz) per week
  • Nuts, legumes, and seeds: at least four servings per week
  • Processed meats: no more than two servings per week
  • Saturated fat: less than 7 percent of total energy intake.

We hope we have shed some light on the risks and prevention of SCA. At Iridia, our goal is to fight SCA and the damage it does to our society. Now get out there and start your heart-healthy lifestyle!