Causes and prevention of sudden cardiac death in the elderly

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Abstract

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a major cause of mortality in elderly individuals owing to a high prevalence of coronary heart disease, systolic dysfunction, and congestive heart failure (CHF). Although the incidence of SCD increases with age, the proportion of cardiac deaths that are sudden decreases owing to high numbers of other cardiac causes of death in elderly individuals. Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD) therapy has been demonstrated to improve survival and prevent SCD in selected patients with systolic dysfunction and CHF. However, ICD therapy in elderly patients might not be effective because of a greater rate of pulseless electrical activity underlying SCD and other competing nonarrhythmic causes of death in this population. Although under-represented in randomized trials of ICD use, elderly patients comprise a substantial proportion of the population that qualifies for and receives an ICD for primary prevention under current guidelines. Cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT), which has been demonstrated to reduce mortality in selected populations with heart failure, is also more commonly used in this group of patients than in younger individuals. In this Review, we examine the causes of SCD in elderly individuals, and discuss the existing evidence for effectiveness of ICD therapy and CRT in this growing population.

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