Sudden death: what are the symptoms and how to prevent it?

It is a sudden and unexpected death and in most cases it is usually due to a lethal arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation.

What is the incidence in Spain?

The incidence is difficult to determine due to the absence of reliable statistics, but it is estimated that around 30,000 sudden deaths occur in Spain each year.

What are the symptoms?

In most cases it presents without previous symptoms; however, the most important premonitory symptom is the presence of repeated syncope (recurrent loss of consciousness).

Although in most cases syncope is due to a benign process, in patients with known heart disease or in patients with a family history of sudden death it may be an alarming symptom.

The most frequent cause of sudden death (ventricular fibrillation) in people over 35 years of age is coronary heart disease (myocardial infarction). In young people, cardiac diseases of genetic origin predominate: hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, arrhythmogenic dysplasia and others.

Therefore, although they are often used interchangeably, sudden death is not an infarction. However, an infarction can cause sudden death.

What is the diagnosis? What tests are performed?

Sudden death is a terminal diagnosis, so the main objective is to prevent it.

In general, cardiology specialists carry out a good interrogation with emphasis on a history of early sudden death in direct family members, a lectrocardiogram, an echocardiogram and a stress test in patients over 35 years of age, which is usually sufficient to detect the risk of sudden death. Sometimes more complex tests such as cardiac magnetic resonance imaging or genetic tests are required.

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What treatment options are used?

When preventive measures are not sufficient or the patient has been resuscitated from sudden death, an automatic defibrillator must be implanted.

This device is capable of automatically detecting a lethal arrhythmia and delivering an electrical shock to restore the heart’s normal rhythm.