Predicting the risk of sudden cardiac death

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Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the result of a change of cardiac activity from normal (typically sinus) rhythm to a rhythm that does not pump adequate blood to the brain. The most common rhythms leading to SCD are ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF). These result from an accelerated ventricular pacemaker or ventricular reentrant waves. Despite significant efforts to develop accurate predictors for the risk of SCD, current methods for risk stratification still need to be improved. In this article we briefly review current approaches to risk stratification. Then we discuss the mathematical basis for dynamical transitions (called bifurcations) that may lead to VT and VF. One mechanism for transition to VT or VF involves a perturbation by a premature ventricular complex (PVC) during sinus rhythm. We describe the main mechanisms of PVCs (reentry, independent pacemakers and abnormal depolarizations). An emerging approach to risk stratification for SCD involves the development of individualized dynamical models of a patient based on measured anatomy and physiology. Careful analysis and modelling of dynamics of ventricular arrhythmia on an individual basis will be essential in order to improve risk stratification for SCD and to lay a foundation for personalized (precision) medicine in cardiology.

Schematic diagram showing sudden cardiac death as a transition from sinus rhythm to ventricular tachycardia (VT) or ventricular fibrillation (VF). The onset of VT or VF is preceded by premature ventricular complex (PVC), which could originate by any of these mechanisms: reentry, spontaneous pacemaker or triggered activity. The ECG trace was taken from the Sudden Cardiac Death Database (record number 32) from

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