Background: Sudden unexpected cardiac death (SUCD) accounts for approximately 25% of deaths from ischaemic heart disease (IHD) but is relatively poorly understood because of the difficulties involved in researching aetiology. Clinical differences between instances of SUCD and those cases of acute chest pain that survive long enough to be proven as myocardial infarction but are eventually fatal might reflect differences in aetiology.
Aims: To determine the risk factors for sudden unexpected cardiac death in Tasmanian men.
Methods: A population-based case-control method was used with the study population, an estimated 125,225 men aged 25-74 years living in the island State of Tasmania, Australia. The case group of 102 men who had a SUCD was validated using necropsy reports, hospital records and information provided by the usual general practitioner. Cases were matched with 204 community controls. Spouses or partners of eligible subjects answered a detailed questionnaire. Multi-variate odds ratios (ORs) for risk factors were calculated using stepwise analysis.
Results: Risk factors measured included: smoking habit, treated hypertension, hypercholesterolaemia, diabetes mellitus, family history of IHD, alcohol intake and exercise habits. Independent risk factors for SUCD were: history of diabetes mellitus (OR = 4.2, 95% CI: 1.39, 12.81), current smoking status (OR = 3.5, 95% CI: 1.80, 6.82), and family history of IHD (OR = 2.6, 95% CI: 1.34, 4.92).
Conclusions: Some accepted risk factors for acute myocardial infarction (AMI) also predict sudden death in men with no history of coronary disease. Efforts to reduce smoking, the incidence of diabetes mellitus and mean blood pressure must be continued as SUCD is, by definition, untreatable but is potentially avoidable in many instances.