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.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a disease of the heart where the certain elements of the heart muscle is thickened. The thickening can lead to a misalignment of the muscle cells, which can lead to disruptions in the electrical functions of the heart.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

You might not have heard of HCM before, but you’ve likely heard of its effects in the news (Fabrice Muamba, Alexander Dale Oen) as HCM is a leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young athletes. 

Unfortunately, the younger the individual diagnosed with HCM is, the more likely they have a more severe form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

The signs and symptoms of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy are usually very mild, but can include shortness of breath, chest pain, unusual heart palpitations, fatigue, fainting and sudden cardiac death.

Often, HCM shows no symptom before sudden cardiac death occurs, making HCM difficult to diagnose and treat. There are several risk factors that will increase the probability of sudden cardiac death:

  • HCM diagnosed at a young age (less than 30)
  • An episode of sudden cardiac arrest
  • Family history of HCM with sudden death
  • Recurrent fainting

However, knowing these factors, it is possible to be prepared for a sudden cardiac arrest. In patients who are deemed to be high risk, an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) may be implanted. An ICD is the most effective and reliable treatment option available. There are also surgical options involving open heart surgery for patients who remain severely symptomatic.

One other option for those with HCM is to have an Automated External Defibrillator (AED) on hand in the event a sudden cardiac arrest occurs. When an AED is applied within the first 3 minutes of cardiac arrest, the chances of survival can increase to 75 percent or more.

Recently, Iridia held a contest in honour of heart month,  to giveaway an AED to a person or organization in need. Aside from helping a person in need, the giveaway was meant to highlight the importance of AEDs and raise awareness of these life-saving devices.

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy - Free AED

The winner of our AED Giveaway, the Kopytko family, whose young child, Mitchell, was born with HCM are ecstatic that they no longer have to worry if there is an AED around or not.

“As a parent I spend much of my day worrying that if he were to have a cardiac incident it would be too late by the time it was recognized, and the paramedics were called,” said Melanie, his mother.

Read the Kopytko story

It is our belief that AEDs should be publically accessible. In recent years, AEDs have made great headway in this respect, but we still have a ways to go. You just never know who will be walking through a mall or an airport when an AED will be needed.  All we can do is be prepared.