Sudden arrhythmic death and cardiomyopathy are important causes of sudden cardiac death in the UK: results from a national coronial autopsy database

Mary N Sheppard, Joseph Westaby, Emelia Zullo, Belmira V E Fernandez, Steve Cox, Alison Cox. Histopathology. 2023 Jun. Read the paper here.


Aims: Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is defined as natural unexpected death in witnessed cases occurring < 1 h and in unwitnessed cases as last seen alive < 24 h. SCD due to ischaemic heart disease (IHD) is frequent in older age groups; in younger people genetic cardiac causes, including channelopathies and cardiomyopathies, are more frequent. This study aimed to present the causes of SCD from a large specialist pathology registry.

Methods and results: Cases were examined macroscopically and microscopically by two expert cardiac pathologists. The hearts from 7214 SCD cases were examined between 1994 and 2021. Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS), a morphologically normal heart, which can be underlaid by cardiac channelopathies, is most common (3821, 53%) followed by the cardiomyopathies (1558, 22%), then IHD (670, 9%), valve disease (225, 3%), congenital heart disease (213, 3%) and myocarditis/sarcoidosis (206, 3%). Hypertensive heart disease (185, 3%), aortic disease (129, 2%), vascular disease (97, 1%) and conduction disease (40, 1%) occur in smaller proportions.

Discussion: To our knowledge, this is the largest SCD cohort with autopsy findings ever reported from one country. SADS and cardiomyopathies predominate. This study highlights the importance of the autopsy in SCD, which is a significant public health concern in all age groups. Knowing the true incidence in our population will improve risk stratification and develop preventative strategies for family members. There is now a national pilot study integrating molecular autopsy and family screening into the assessment of SCD victims.