Structural pathways and prevention of heart failure and sudden death

J Cardiovasc Electrophysiol. 2003 Jul;14(7):764-75. doi: 10.1046/j.1540-8167.2003.02543.x.


We review the macroscopic and microscopic anatomy of myocardial disease associated with heart failure (HF) and sudden cardiac death (SCD) and focus on the prevention of SCD in light of its structural pathways. Compared to patients without SCD, patients with SCD exhibit 5- to 6-fold increases in the risks of ventricular arrhythmias and SCD. Epidemiologically, left ventricular hypertrophy by ECG or echocardiography acts as a potent dose-dependent SCD predictor. Dyslipidemia, a coronary disease risk factor, independently predicts echocardiographic hypertrophy. In adult SCD autopsy studies, increases in heart weight and severe coronary disease are constant findings, whereas rates of acute coronary thrombi vary remarkably. The microscopic myocardial anatomy of SCD is incompletely defined but may include prevalent changes of advanced myocardial disease, including cardiomyocyte hypertrophy, cardiomyocyte apoptosis, fibroblast hyperplasia, diffuse and focal matrix protein accumulation, and recruitment of inflammatory cells. Hypertrophied cardiomyocytes express "fetospecific" genetic programs that can account for acquired long QT physiology with risk for polymorphic ventricular arrhythmias. Structural heart disease associated with HF and high SCD risk is causally related to an up-regulation of the adrenergic renin-angiotensin-aldosterone pathway. In outcome trials, suppression of this pathway with combinations of beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin-II receptor blockers, and mineralocorticoid receptor blockers have achieved substantial total mortality and SCD reductions. Contrarily, trials with ion channel-active agents that are not known to reduce structural heart disease have failed to reduce these risks. Device therapy effectively prevents SCD, but whether biventricular pacing-induced remodeling decreases left ventricular mass remains uncertain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents / therapeutic use
  • Apoptosis
  • Cardiac Output, Low / drug therapy
  • Cardiac Output, Low / etiology
  • Cardiac Output, Low / pathology
  • Cardiac Output, Low / physiopathology*
  • Cardiac Output, Low / prevention & control*
  • Cardiomegaly / complications
  • Cardiomegaly / physiopathology
  • Coronary Artery Disease / complications
  • Coronary Artery Disease / physiopathology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control*
  • Heart Diseases / complications
  • Heart Diseases / pathology
  • Heart Diseases / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Mitosis
  • Myocytes, Cardiac / metabolism*


  • Anti-Arrhythmia Agents