What is sudden death?
Sudden death is cardiac arrest that occurs unexpectedly and suddenly in people who are apparently in good health. The cardiac arrest occurs abruptly and, in the absence of immediate medical attention, results in the death of the patient.
Prognosis of sudden death
There is no possible way to prevent or control sudden death, as it occurs unexpectedly. If the affected patient does not receive immediate medical attention, he or she will die as a result of cardiac arrest.
Symptoms of sudden death
As such, sudden death shows no prior symptoms in those who suffer from it. However, there are signs that can help identify it quickly:
- Loss of consciousness
- Absence of response to stimuli
- Respiratory arrest
- Loss of usual skin tone, which turns purplish blue
Causes of sudden cardiac death
The most common cause of sudden cardiac death is ventricular fibrillation, which is a type of arrhythmia that makes the heart muscle unable to contract normally. This situation makes normal heartbeats impossible, stopping the pumping of blood throughout the body. The longer the cardiac arrest lasts, the more serious the problem becomes, since all the organs of the body – including the brain – stop receiving blood.
Other reasons for cardiac arrest include the existence of a previous cardiovascular disease. Among the main cardiac diseases that can cause sudden death are the following:
- Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: this is a genetic disease characterized by a thickening of the heart, in most cases of the left ventricle. It is the leading cause of sudden death in adults under 50 years of age.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: dilatation of the left ventricle and systolic dysfunction that prevents the heart from pumping blood. Heart transplants can cause this anomaly, although its prevalence is not known exactly.
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia: this is an inherited disease in which there is a progressive loss of myocytes which are replaced by adipose tissue. It affects more young adults under 40 years of age.
- Brugada syndrome: this is a heart disease characterized by a series of episodes of polyformic ventricular tachycardia that can cause fainting or sudden death.
- Long QT syndrome: characterized by cardiac arrhythmias due to various structural abnormalities in the sodium and potassium channels of the heart.
- Catecholaminergic polyformic ventricular tachycardia: this is a hereditary pathology in which the hearts are structurally abnormal.
Can sudden death be prevented?
Since sudden death occurs in apparently healthy patients, it is difficult to prevent. However, there are some risk factors that are associated with sudden cardiac death. Among them, age should be mentioned, in which there are two ranges in which it can occur:
First, between birth and the first six months of age -sudden infant death- and the second between 45 and 74 years of age.
Another risk factor is gender, with sudden death being more frequent in men than in women. In turn, people with cardiovascular risk factors (obesity, diabetes, smoking, etc.) are at greater risk of sudden death.
Treatments for sudden death
The only effective treatment to stop sudden death is early defibrillation, which consists of an electric shock to the heart using paddles or patches that attempt to restart the heart’s activity. If a defibrillator is not available nearby, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, in which cardiac massage and mouth-to-mouth respiration are applied, can be performed.
In cases such as Brugada Syndrome, it can be treated with an internal defibrillator.