Sudden cardiac death is an important cause of cardiovascular mortality with the majority of cases occurring in low-risk groups. HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (statins) have recently been shown to reduce the incidence of ventricular tachycardia (VT)/fibrillation (VF) and sudden cardiac death, and this has been attributed to their pleiotropic effects. However, it is unclear whether this occurs through an 'indirect' anti-ischemic or 'direct' antiarrhythmic effect. We systematically reviewed articles published on MEDLINE between January 1996 and December 2009 focusing on the reduction of VT/VF and sudden cardiac death by statins and the potential mechanisms. Studies reporting sudden cardiac death or VT/VF outcomes with statin use (n = 23) or the pathophysiology of sudden cardiac death reduction by statins (n = 19) were included. We found that statins have been shown to reduce VT/VF and sudden cardiac death only in subjects with underlying coronary artery disease or ischemic cardiomyopathy. No definite benefits were seen with statins in sudden cardiac death and VT/VF in patients with non-ischemic cardiomyopathy. There is insufficient evidence to point toward a benefit in populations at low risk for VT/VF. In conclusion, an anti-ischemic rather than a primary antiarrhythmic effect emerges as the likely mechanism of sudden cardiac death reduction with statins.