Sudden death in persons younger than 40 years of age: incidence and causes

Eur J Cardiovasc Prev Rehabil. 2009 Oct;16(5):592-6. doi: 10.1097/HJR.0b013e32832d555b.


Background: The problem of sudden death in the young is currently debated and measures for prevention are being evaluated worldwide. Information on the incidence and causes of sudden (cardiac) death in the young (1-40 years) is essential for the development of these preventive strategies.

Methods: Incidence estimates and causes of death were determined using death certificate data of out-of-hospital sudden deaths recorded by Statistics Netherlands from 1996 to 2006. To define sudden death, International Classification of Diseases codes were selected based on a systematic review of the literature assessing the most common causes of sudden death in the young.

Results: The incidence of sudden death was 2.07 (2.06-2.07 per 100 000 person-years). The incidence was higher for men (2.86 per 100 000 person-years) than for women (1.24 per 100 000 person-years) and increased by age. The majority of sudden deaths was of cardiac origin. Sudden cardiac death incidence was 1.62 (1.61-1.62 per 100 000 person-years). In 9% the cause of death remained unexplained.

Conclusion: The incidence of sudden death in the young is 2.07 per 100 000 person-years. Treatable cardiac causes (such as coronary atherosclerosis and inherited cardiac diseases) are often underlying for the sudden death. This information is helpful in the development of preventive strategies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Cause of Death
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology*
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult