Researchers in Denmark have studied how many sudden deaths heart disease causes. Focusing more on prevention can save lives, says a researcher.
New research examining the causes of death in Denmark in 2010 has shown that up to 13% of all deaths occurred suddenly, with people collapsing from a heart attack on the street, in the hospital or alone in their home.
The proportion of deaths caused by sudden heart attack in Denmark is in accordance with what has previously been found in smaller studies elsewhere. However, according to a researcher behind the study, there is still room for improvement.
“Previous studies have indicated that sudden cardiac death is probably quite common. Our research aims to potentially prevent many of these deaths by identifying at-risk individuals so that they can be treated for underlying heart disease before it is too late,” explains Thomas Hadberg Lynge, Heart Centre, Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen.
The research has been published in Heart Rhythm.
Investigated all deaths in Denmark in 2010
The researchers manually reviewed all 54,028 deaths in Denmark in 2010 by studying data from death certificates, autopsies and health records to identify all sudden and unexpected deaths.
The researchers looked for the people who died suddenly from heart disease, such as from a heart attack.
The death certificates in Denmark are especially suitable for this type of study, since physicians are legally required to report sudden death to the police to determine whether a judicial autopsy should be carried out.
“Many of the deaths of this type have therefore been investigated quite thoroughly and the death certificate often contains comprehensive information about the circumstances of the death, such as statements from ambulance crews, relatives, the person’s general practitioner and any people who were present when the person collapsed,” says Thomas Hadberg Lynge.
One third of all sudden deaths occur when people are alone
The researchers determined that:
· one third of all sudden deaths occurred when people were alone; and
· up to 13% of all deaths in 2020 were sudden and unexpected.
Thomas Hadberg Lynge says that this figure is in accordance with several smaller studies in other countries that have found that between 5% and 20% of all deaths are sudden, adding:
“That’s a high number but not surprisingly high. Nevertheless, this is the first time we have so accurately estimated this health problem at the national level.”
Finding risk factors for sudden death
Thomas Hadberg Lynge explains that the research results have several perspectives.
Since people died alone in a third of all sudden deaths, many people have not benefitted from the many successful initiatives in Denmark such as ensuring more heart starters and “heart runners” and generally better knowledge of cardiopulmonary resuscitation in the population.
In addition, the study shows that there is room for reducing the number of people who die from sudden heart attack.
“In collaboration with research groups in other countries, we aim at constructing risk models to determine an individual’s risk of dying suddenly from heart disease. Since heart attacks are a frequent cause, well-known risk factors for this, such as smoking, lack of exercise and obesity, are also risk factors for sudden death. Reducing these risk factors will therefore also have a significant effect,” explains Thomas Hadberg Lynge.
Thomas Hadberg Lynge also says that another perspective in the study is that the researchers mapped all sudden deaths for a single year in Denmark. In subsequent research, this will enable them to link the data with national health registers and thereby hopefully identify new risk factors for sudden death.
“For example, these could involve combinations of drugs or diagnoses. The more risk factors we can identify, the more likely we are to be able to identify people at high risk of dying suddenly. Previous studies also show that many people who die suddenly have displayed symptoms in the weeks and months before dying. Many sudden deaths can be prevented if we can identify people at high risk based on symptoms and risk factors,” concludes Thomas Hadberg Lynge.