Objectives: The objective of this study was to examine prospectively the incidence, predisposing cardiovascular conditions, and risk factors for sudden death in women compared with men.
Methods and result: The study design was a prospective general population examination of a cohort of 2873 women for development of sudden coronary death in relation to antecedent overt coronary heart disease (CHD), cardiac failure, and risk factors for coronary heart disease. Participants were women aged 30 to 62 years participating in the Framingham Study, receiving routine biennial examinations for risk factors and cardiovascular conditions. Among women monitored over a period of 38 years, there were 750 initial coronary events, of which 94 (12%) were sudden cardiac deaths. Of the 292 CHD fatalities in women, 32% were sudden cardiac deaths and 37% of the women had a history of prior CHD. Sudden death incidence in women logged behind that in men by >10 years. However, above age 75 years, 17% of all CHD events in women were sudden deaths. Sudden death risk in women with CHD was half as high as in men if they had CHD. In both sexes, a myocardial infarction conferred twice the risk of angina. Cardiac failure escalated sudden death risk of women 5-fold but was only one fourth that of men with failure or CHD. Ventricular ectopy increased sudden death risk only in women without prior overt CHD. Except for diabetes, CHD risk factors imposed a lower sudden death risk in women than men. However, even in women, sudden death risk increased over a 17-fold range in relation to their burden of CHD risk factors.
Conclusions: Sudden death is a prominent feature of CHD in women as well as men, particularly in advanced age. A higher fraction of sudden deaths in women than men is unexpected occurring in the absence of prior overt CHD. It is subject to the same risk factors and as predictable in women as in men. However, at any level of multivariate risk, women are less vulnerable to sudden death than men.