Sudden death in type 1 diabetes: the mystery of the 'dead in bed' syndrome

Int J Cardiol. 2010 Jan 7;138(1):91-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ijcard.2008.06.021. Epub 2008 Aug 3.


Sudden cardiac death is an unpredictable and devastating event, particularly in the young. A significant proportion of sudden deaths in the young are unexplained-no cause is identified either during life or at post-mortem. This is seen in a subgroup of young patients with type 1 diabetes who have dead in bed syndrome, where these victims are in good health, retire to bed, only to be found dead the following morning in a bed which is undisturbed, suggesting no terminal struggle or seizure. The underlying cause of dead in bed syndrome remains unknown, but is likely to be due to a terminal malignant arrhythmia. A plausible hypothesis is that it may be secondary to QT interval prolongation (followed by a degenerate ventricular tachycardia), caused by a number of factors including acute hypoglycaemia, on a background of cardiac autonomic neuropathy, and possible genetic influences. It is envisaged that understanding the causes and triggers of dead in bed syndrome will allow appropriate therapeutic interventions to be initiated in high-risk patients with type 1 diabetes, with the ultimate goal to prevent sudden death.

Publication types

  • Letter

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Death, Sudden / epidemiology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 / mortality*
  • Humans
  • Hypoglycemia / mortality*
  • Long QT Syndrome / mortality*
  • Risk Factors
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular / mortality*
  • Young Adult