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Screening family members for sudden death risk

Posted Jun 02 2009 6:17am

In the largest study of its kind to date, researchers at a specialized cardiogenetics center in the Netherlands have screened the close families of sudden-unexplained-death (SUD) victims and found that a third of them are affected by inherited heart disease. The causes of sudden death are varied, but there is clearly a genetic component which needs to be explored in families of patients who have SUD, especially at a young age (i.e., age <50).

SUD and sudden cardiac death (SCD) in general is becoming recognized as a major preventable cause of death. While the treatment options vary with the type of diagnosis that is made, from medications to surgical repairs to implantable cardioverter-defibrillators (ICDs), in all cases early diagnosis is critical: only 5% of out-of-hospital SCD/SUD victims survive the episode. Thus, primary prevention is imperative.

 For many patients, the SCD/SUD episode is their very first manifestation of their problem; most do not have the "good fortune" to have had prior "warning" episodes of palpitations, dizziness, or fainting. Thus, good screening in appropriate patients - those with a relevant family history, abnormal ECG, etc. - needs to be a part of the standard medical evaluation.

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