Sudden Death in a healthy person

Dear Doctor T,A friend died of a heart attack this past Sat. while on a mountain bike ride.  He was 46, not overweight, lived a clean lifestyle.  It came as a shock to me.  Was he most likely born with a heart defect or had family history of heart disease?  Cause I'm wondering how this could happen to someone that young.  I like to mountain bike too but in wake of this incident, I feel a touch more apprehensive about that.  Sincerely,Heather

Hi Heather,
Much more likely than a heart attack, your friend died because of an arrhythmia called ventricular fibrillation (VF), causing sudden cardiac death (SCD).
SCD can occur in active, outwardly healthy people with no known heart disease or other health problems. While its causes include coronary artery disease (CAD), arrhythmias can occur for other reasons, such as:

  • Electrolyte imbalances in your blood (such as sodium or potassium).
  • Changes in your heart muscle.
  • Injury from a heart attack.
  • Healing process after heart surgery.
  • Irregular heart rhythms can also occur in "normal, healthy" hearts.

In somebody with a heart healthy life style w/o cardiac risk factors, CAD is unlikely but can be excluded with a variety of tests.
You can test your personal risk for heart disease, and if still concerned about arrhythmias, discuss specific testing with your doctor.
Hope this helps,
Dr T



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