Feature Article

Sudden cardiac death. Recognising and mitigating the risk

Tejas Deshmukh, Pramesh Kovoor, SARAH ZAMAN


© ralf geithe/istockphoto.com model used for illustrative purposes only
© ralf geithe/istockphoto.com model used for illustrative purposes only


Sudden cardiac death is a significant source of mortality in the Australian population, most commonly related to underlying coronary artery disease. Early recognition of at-risk patients is key to preventing this catastrophic event.

Key Points

  • Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is defined as death due to a cardiac cause that occurs suddenly and unexpectedly if witnessed, or an unexpected death from a likely cardiac cause where the individual was known to be alive within the previous 24 hours.
  • The most common cause of SCD is underlying coronary artery disease such as a previous myocardial infarction.
  • Although patients with underlying heart disease have the highest rate of SCD, most absolute events occur in the general population without known heart disease.
  • Investigations include blood biochemistry, electrocardiography and echocardiography.
  • Management is often with beta blockers and, in high-risk patients or those with previous cardiac arrest or ventricular tachycardia, an implantable cardiac defibrillator.