Program in Cardiac Arrhythmias: Sudden Cardiac Death
What is sudden cardiac death?
On July 13, 2008, journalist Tim Russert was recording voiceovers for a newscast, when, suddenly, he collapsed and died. Years before, Russert had been diagnosed with heart disease, and, though he had a weight problem that worsened his condition, he appeared to be doing well overall.
A dynamic man and respected commentator, Russert—at only 58 years old—seemed to be in the prime of his life. He relished covering big stories like the 2008 presidential campaign, and he had just celebrated his son’s college graduation with a family trip to Italy.
Russert seemed to take his health seriously. He exercised each morning, took medication to manage his blood pressure, and had recently performed well on a “stress test” that measured blood flow in the arteries in his heart. All told, his heart disease seemed under control. That he could go to work one morning feeling fine — and then die suddenly without any significant warning — is an idea that seems incomprehensible.
Tim Russert experienced sudden cardiac death—a condition in which the heart stops beating abruptly and without warning.
How many people die of sudden cardiac death?
There are different estimates of the number of sudden cardiac deaths in the United States that range from approximately 200,000 to 400,000 persons per year. This is the single largest cause of death related to the heart.
What are the current treatments?
While there are several causes of sudden cardiac death, one of the most common causes is a rapid, disordered heart rhythm or arrhythmia. These rapid heart rhythms can be restored to normal by shocking the heart either with an Automatic External Defibrillator (AEDs are found in public places such as the airport) or an implantable defibrillator.
What are the current challenges in treating sudden cardiac death?
While AEDs are highly effective when deployed immediately, unfortunately the vast majority of people who experience sudden cardiac death do not survive. Even more unfortunate, our ability to identify patients who will experience sudden cardiac death prior to the event is poor. This is a critical endeavor to enable treatment to be in place before a person experiences a fatal arrhythmia.
How is the Center for Cardiovascular Innovation addressing this problem?
Members of the Center have provided national leadership in addressing the pressing issue of sudden cardiac death. Dr. Goldberger, an established researcher and a thought leader in this area, chaired the American Heart Association’s Scientific Statement Committee on risk stratification for sudden cardiac death. Dr. Bonow served as co-chair of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s report on research priorities in sudden cardiac death, and serves on the Joint Commission’s technical panel on sudden cardiac death prevention.
Dr. Goldberger has formed a national think tank that brings together a broad array of stakeholders – clinicians, epidemiologists, health economists, government agencies, and industry – on an ongoing basis for the purpose of developing a more focused approach to this problem. He and his team are developing novel approaches to identify those individuals who are at risk for sudden cardiac death, so that these individuals can receive prompt and appropriate treatments to reduce the risk of this devastating condition.
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