Sudden death accounts for 300,000-400,000 deaths annually in the United States. Most sudden deaths are cardiac, and most sudden cardiac deaths are related to arrhythmias secondary to structural heart disease or primary electrical abnormalities of the heart. The most common structural disease leading to sudden death is ischemic heart disease. Nonischemic cardiomyopathy and other structural abnormalities such as arrhythmogenic ventricular dysplasia and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may also be causative. Patients without structural disease have a primary electrical abnormality, such as long-QT syndrome or Brugada syndrome. Severe left ventricular systolic dysfunction is the main marker for sudden death in patients with ischemic or nonischemic cardiomyopathy. In other conditions, other markers for structural heart disease and electrical abnormalities need to be considered. It is seen that β-blocker therapy is associated with a reduction in sudden cardiac death across a broad range of disorders. Nevertheless, the implantable cardioverter defibrillator remains the most effective treatment strategy in selected patients.
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