Objectives: To identify patients at risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD) by analysis of clinical history.
Design: A retrospective study of the Swedish cohort of 15-35 year olds having suffered an SCD during 1992-1999 and having undergone a forensic autopsy (162 individuals). We sought information in forensic, police and medical records and from interviews with family members.
Results: Syncope/presyncope, chest pain, palpitations or dyspnoea were present in 92/162, unspecific symptoms such as fatigue, influenza, headache or nightmares in 35/162. Syncope/presyncope was most common (42/162). In 74 seeking medical attention, 32 had an ECG recorded (24 pathological). In 26 subjects there was a family history of SCD.
Conclusions: The patient seeking medical advice before suffering an SCD is characterized by one to three of the following: 1) cardiac-related symptoms or non-specific symptoms often after an infectious disease, 2) a pathological ECG, 3) a family history of SCD. In 6 out of 10 a cardiac diagnosis was not considered. We conclude that symptoms preceding SCD were common but often misinterpreted.