Yearly death totals of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in people between
the ages of 15 and 34 rose 10% overall during the past decade ó from 2,719 in 1989
to 3,000 in 1996, according to data presented by researchers from the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during the American Heart Associationís 41st
Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, in San
Alarmingly, although the numbers are very small, the SCD death rate increased by
30% in young women. Death rates were also higher among young African-Americans than
"We canít fully explain this increase in SCD among young people,
particularly young women," said CDC Director Jeffrey Koplan, M.D., M.P.H.
"However, smoking cigarettes, obesity, and lack of physical activity are
high among adolescents. Poor recognition of heart events in younger patients and
delayed application of cardiopulmonary resuscitation or defibrillation may also be
contributing to this increase."
SCD typically is caused by ischemic heart disease, which restricts blood flow to
the heart; arrhythmia (irregular heart beat); or cardiomyopathy (deterioration of the
heart muscle). Ischemic heart disease has been associated with not being physically
active, eating a poor diet, and smoking cigarettes. Arrhythmia and cardiomyopathy are
often inherited or result from a structural problem in the heart.
Lifestyle changes, plus early identification of risk and prompt attention when
signs of heart distress are recognized, could help reduce SCD in people ages 15-34,
according to the CDC.
"Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes 30 minutes of moderate
physical activity on most days of the week, a low-fat diet with lots of fruits and
vegetables, and either stopping smoking or not starting, are three steps we all can
take to help reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death," said George A. Mensah,
M.D., chief of cardiovascular health at CDC and co-author of the report.
"Families with a history of early heart disease or sudden cardiac death should
talk to their doctors about screening younger family members."
The report was presented in San Antonio by lead author Zhi-Jie Zheng, M.D., Ph.D.,
epidemiologist. Other researchers included Janet Croft, Ph.D., and Wayne L. Giles,