Sudden cardiac death rates worse than previously estimated

December 6, 2001

A new report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) suggests that the incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) may be higher than previously recognized. The report, based on U.S. vital statistics mortality data from 1989 through 1998, indicates that there are 400,000 to 450,000 cases of sudden cardiac death each year. This contrasts with a widely quoted estimate from the American Heart Association that places the annual incidence at 220,000. The authors recognize that death certificate data is not validated, however, and may substantially over-represent cardiac disease as the cause of death.

The report also found that death rates increased with age and were higher in men than in women. The mean age of SCD victims was 70 years in men and 82 years in women. The report also refers to “disturbing trends for women,” noting that during the 10-year study period, rates decreased more in men than in women.

The authors concluded that “SCD remains an important clinical and public health problem in the United States” and that “public health education and media efforts should target increased awareness of the symptoms and signs of cardiac arrest and should attempt to increase the numbers of bystanders trained and willing to initiate the ‘chain of survival’”.

Zheng Z, Croft J, Giles W, Mensah G. Sudden cardiac death in the United Staes, 1989-1998. Circulation 2001;104:2158-2163.

To view the abstract, click here.