One in nine men will experience sudden cardiac death, such as a fatal heart attack or cardiac arrest, with most dying before the age of 70, new research suggests.
“These numbers should raise a red flag,” said senior author Donald Lloyd-Jones.
“We often screen for conditions that are less common and much less deadly than sudden cardiac death.
"For instance, the lifetime risk for colon cancer is about one in 21, and for this reason everyone over the age of 50 [in America] is told to have a colonoscopy.
"But by comparison, the lifetime risk of sudden cardiac death for men is one in nine, and yet we’re not really screening for it."
In England, bowel cancer screening is offered to patients on the NHS over the age of 55.
Lloyd-Jones and colleagues examined data on more than 5,200 men and women aged 28 to 62 who were free of heart disease at the time of their enrolment.
Focusing on four major risk factors - blood pressure, total cholesterol, smoking, and diabetes — researchers calculated overall cumulative lifetime risk estimates for sudden cardiac death, and estimates according to risk factor burden.
sudden cardiac death occurred in 375 people during follow up
sudden cardiac death risk was greater for men than women - with an overall 10.9% lifetime risk among all men at age 45 (roughly one in nine men) and a 2.8% lifetime risk of among all women at age 45 (or about one in 30 women)
men with two or more major risk factors at all ages had even higher lifetime risks of at least 12% (or more than one in eight men)
The study is among the first to present this amount of data for heart-related death.
“Sudden cardiac death has been very hard to study because most patients had no history of heart problems and were not being monitored at the time of their death,” Lloyd-Jones said.
“The majority of all cases occur before age 70; this is obviously sudden and devastating for families, with a burden that can be quite severe.
"Our paper sets the stage for thinking about how we can screen the population effectively to find out who’s at risk."
The research is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.