Racial Differences in Sudden Cardiac Death

Circulation. 2019 Apr 2;139(14):1688-1697. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.118.036553.


Background: Blacks have a higher incidence of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac death (SCD) in comparison with whites. However, the racial differences in the cumulative risk of SCD and the reasons for these differences have not been assessed in large-scale community-based cohorts. The objective of this study is to compare the lifetime cumulative risk of SCD among blacks and whites, and to evaluate the risk factors that may explain racial differences in SCD risk in the general population.

Methods: This is a cohort study of 3832 blacks and 11 237 whites participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study (ARIC). Race was self-reported. SCD was defined as a sudden pulseless condition from a cardiac cause in a previously stable individual, and SCD cases were adjudicated by an expert committee. Cumulative incidence was computed using competing risk models. Potential mediators included demographic and socioeconomic factors, cardiovascular risk factors, presence of coronary heart disease, and electrocardiographic parameters as time-varying factors.

Results: The mean (SD) age was 53.6 (5.8) years for blacks and 54.4 (5.7) years for whites. During 27.4 years of follow-up, 215 blacks and 332 whites experienced SCD. The lifetime cumulative incidence of SCD at age 85 years was 9.6, 6.6, 6.5, and 2.3% for black men, black women, white men, and white women, respectively. The sex-adjusted hazard ratio for SCD comparing blacks with whites was 2.12 (95% CI, 1.79-2.51). The association was attenuated but still statistically significant in fully adjusted models (hazard ratio, 1.38; 95% CI, 1.11-1.71). In mediation analysis, known factors explained 65.3% (95% CI 37.9-92.8%) of the excess risk of SCD in blacks in comparison with whites. The single most important factor explaining this difference was income (50.5%), followed by education (19.1%), hypertension (22.1%), and diabetes mellitus (19.6%). Racial differences were evident in both genders but stronger in women than in men.

Conclusions: Blacks had a much higher risk for SCD in comparison with whites, particularly among women. Income, education, and traditional risk factors explained ≈65% of the race difference in SCD. The high burden of SCD and the racial-gender disparities observed in our study represent a major public health and clinical problem.

Keywords: cohort studies; race; risk factors; sudden cardiac death.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Black or African American*
  • Comorbidity
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / ethnology*
  • Diabetes Mellitus / ethnology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / mortality
  • Educational Status
  • Female
  • Health Status Disparities*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / ethnology
  • Hypertension / mortality
  • Incidence
  • Income
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Social Determinants of Health / ethnology*
  • Time Factors
  • United States / epidemiology
  • White People*