Sudden cardiac death occurring in a young person is a tragedy. It has devastating effects on families, friends and communities. Sudden cardiac death is an unexpected death from a cardiac cause in a previously healthy individual. In a proportion of sudden unexplained deaths an underlying cardiac cause is found after the death, but sometimes the cause of death remains unascertained, and is presumed to be due to a primary arrhythmia (abnormal rhythm) in the heart. Research continues to lead to expanding knowledge in this area, though there is still a long way to go in order to be able to identify those at risk of a sudden cardiac death.
Genetically determined cardiac conditions make up a sizeable proportion of the causes of sudden unexpected deaths in young people. Some of these conditions have been linked with specific genes which can be identified from a person’s DNA. Finding out the exact cause of the cardiac problem gives loved ones an answer and can also allow for genetic testing of close relatives, so that possible preventative medical treatments can be put in place.
Most young people are in peak health when a sudden cardiac event occurs. They are usually physically well, and going about their lives with the confidence in their bodies that young people should have. Whilst a sudden unexpected death can occur during exercise it is more usual for it to occur during sleep or periods of light activity. Centres of excellence in research in Australia continue to add important knowledge in this area, including the Centenary Institute in Sydney and Baker Institute in Melbourne.
These are some resources that you might find helpful around the biomedical aspects of sudden unexpected cardiac deaths:
Genes made Easy
This site provides an explanation of genes, chromosomes and DNA, including a good YouTube representation of same.
This organisation is dedicated to the prevention of unexplained cardiac deaths in people under the age of 50.
Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome:
This is a U.K website that explains many of the medical aspects of sudden arrhythmic death (including all the different acronyms for this condition!)
Cardiovascular genomics and sudden cardiac death in the young
This article has been written for an audience of GPs and is thus pitched for a medical readership, but may interest others as well
Response For Life
This organisation aims to raise awareness of prompt CPR and defibrillation in order to prevents deaths from sudden cardiac arrests. The organisation was created in memory of loved ones lost to sudden cardiac deaths.