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Clinical Articles, News & Views

Black people at greater risk of sudden cardiac arrest

Black people are more likely than white people to experience sudden cardiac arrest and at a much earlier age, according to a study published recently in Circulation.1

For the study, researchers collected data on 1,745 white and 179 black residents in the Portland, Oregon, metropolitan area who experienced sudden cardiac arrest between 2002 and 2012. They found:

  • Black people were more than twice as likely as white people to experience sudden cardiac arrest.
  • On average, black people were more than six years younger than white people at the time of sudden cardiac arrest. Among black people, the majority were younger than 65 when their sudden cardiac arrest occurred; among white people, the majority were older than 65.
  • Black people who experience sudden cardiac arrest had the same rates as white people of coronary artery disease, long considered the strongest predictor of risk. However, three non-coronary heart problems were significantly more prevalent among black people than white people: congestive heart failure (43% vs. 34%), left ventricular hypertrophy (77% vs. 58%), and a longer QT interval, indicating a problem with the heart’s electrical system.

Researchers also found that black people had higher rates than white people of well-established risk factors for cardiovascular disease, including diabetes (52% vs. 33%), hypertension (77% vs. 65%), and chronic kidney failure (34% vs. 19%).

“Cardiac arrest is recognised by the ‘bad company’ it keeps, so the mantra has been: prevent coronary artery disease, prevent sudden cardiac death,” said Dr Sumeet S Chugh (Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles, California, USA), lead author of the study.

“As healthcare professionals, we should be aware of a broader spectrum of risk factors for our black patients. If we only focus on reducing coronary artery disease, we are unlikely to offer them the same benefit we offer white patients,” Dr Chugh added.

“In black patients, we found our study reinforces the importance of a healthy lifestyle to avoid developing certain sudden cardiac arrest risk factors, including high blood pressure, diabetes and chronic kidney disease,” he concluded.

Researchers believe the study results should be replicated in other communities and recently expanded their study to Ventura County, California, which has a large Latino population.


1. Reinier K, Nichols GA, Huertas-Vazquez A, et al. Distinctive clinical profile of blacks versus whites presenting with sudden cardiac arrest. Circulation 2015;132:380–7.

Published on: November 24, 2015

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