Circadian Variation of Sudden Cardiac Death Reflects Age-Related Variability in Ventricular Fibrillation

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Background.Previous studies report a morning peak in the occurrence of out-of-hospital sudden cardiac death but lack detailed information on underlying arrhythmias. We used the documentation system of the semiautomated defibrillators used by emergency medical technicians to investigate the circadian pattern of defined arrhythmias and the influence of demographic patient characteristics on this pattern.Methods and Results.From December 1988 to December 1990, 703 consecutive patients (63% men; age, 67±17 years) with sudden cardiac death were registered in the Klinikum Steglitz area of the Berlin emergency care system. Determination of time of day of the event was based on the arrival time of the rescue squad. A marked circadian variation (P<.0001) in the occurrence of sudden cardiac death was observed with a primary morning peak (6 AM to noon) and a secondary afternoon peak (3 to 7 PM). The subgroup of 294 patients with ventricular fibrillation as initially documented arrhythmia showed a similar circadian variation (P<.0001). In significant contrast (P<.01), patients with asystole (n=260) or pulseless bradyarrhythmias (n=149) were more evenly distributed during the daytime with a primary night trough. Multivariate logistic regression analysis revealed that the circadian pattern of ventricular fibrillation was similar in both gender groups but tended to differ with regard to age: patients older than 65 years demonstrated a monophasic distribution, whereas patients aged 65 years or less had a biphasic distribution with peaks in the morning and in the afternoon.Conclusions.The circadian pattern of sudden cardiac death reflects primarily a circadian variation in onset of ventricular fibrillation. The different circadian patterns of ventricular fibrillation, pulseless bradyarrhythmias, and asystole suggest different pathophysiological mechanisms of causation of death. The age dependence of the pattern of ventricular fibrillation may indicate different underlying external or endogenous triggers. (Circulation.1993;88[part 1]:2284–2289.)

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