Sudden cardiac deaths ‘not on rise in Ireland’

Despite a number of recent deaths, the incidence of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in Ireland is not on the increase, according to a leading cardiologist.

About 40 to 50 people under the age of 35 die each year from SCD in Ireland — about one person a week. In approximately 75% of these cases, an autopsy will demonstrate the cause of death. The most common abnormal finding in these cases is narrowing of the blood vessels supplying the heart muscle, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an inherited thickening of the heart muscle which can lead to fatal heart rhythm disturbances. In the remaining 25% of cases, the autopsy is normal and these cases are called sudden adult death syndrome (SADS) or sudden unexplained death (SUD).

In general, three quarters of people who die from SCD are male and only 10% of victims die during exertion.

The most common cause of SADS in Ireland are inherited channelopathies such as congenital long Q-T syndromes.

There have been calls in recent years for mass cardiac screening to help reduce the incidence of SCD. Such screening can consist of a simple questionnaire or may involve a medical exam.

However, there are two schools of thought on SCD screening, said Cork University Hospital consultant cardiologist Gerry Fahy.

“There are those who believe that all people who do competitive sport should be screened, while there are others who believe that the yield is too low, with many normal people being classed as abnormal, which causes unnecessary anxiety and that it is too costly,” said Dr Fahy.

In Italy, anyone engaged in competitive sports must undergo cardiac screening.

It is more effective, according to Dr Fahy, for all immediate relatives, siblings, parents, and children, of a person who dies suddenly to be screened.

People should also see a doctor if they have a history of blacking out or palpitation. If heart problems are identified, said Dr Fahy, treatment can be given to reduce risk of sudden death.


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