Sudden cardiac death in the young: A consensus statement on recommended practices for cardiac examination by pathologists from the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology

Cardiovasc Pathol. 2023 Mar-Apr:63:107497. doi: 10.1016/j.carpath.2022.107497. Epub 2022 Nov 12.


Sudden cardiac death is, by definition, an unexpected, untimely death caused by a cardiac condition in a person with known or unknown heart disease. This major international public health problem accounts for approximately 15-20% of all deaths. Typically more common in older adults with acquired heart disease, SCD also can occur in the young where the cause is more likely to be a genetically transmitted process. As these inherited disease processes can affect multiple family members, it is critical that these deaths are appropriately and thoroughly investigated. Across the United States, SCD cases in those less than 40 years of age will often fall under medical examiner/coroner jurisdiction resulting in scene investigation, review of available medical records and a complete autopsy including toxicological and histological studies. To date, there have not been consistent or uniform guidelines for cardiac examination in these cases. In addition, many medical examiner/coroner offices are understaffed and/or underfunded, both of which may hamper specialized examinations or studies (e.g., molecular testing). Use of such guidelines by pathologists in cases of SCD in decedents aged 1-39 years of age could result in life-saving medical intervention for other family members. These recommendations also may provide support for underfunded offices to argue for the significance of this specialized testing. As cardiac examinations in the setting of SCD in the young fall under ME/C jurisdiction, this consensus paper has been developed with members of the Society of Cardiovascular Pathology working with cardiovascular pathology-trained, practicing forensic pathologists.

Keywords: Cardiomyopathy; Death in the young; Forensic pathology heart examination; Genomics of sudden death; Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy; Sudden cardiac death; Sudden death; Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Autopsy / methods
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / pathology
  • Heart
  • Heart Diseases* / complications
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Pathologists*
  • Young Adult