TUESDAY, July 5, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Testing the relatives of victims of sudden unexplained cardiac death may help spot other family members who are at risk, Dutch researchers claim in the July 5 issue of Circulation.
The study included 333 people from 43 families in which at least one family member age 40 or younger had suffered sudden unexplained cardiac death.
Sudden cardiac death is often caused by a structural problem in the heart that can lead to fatal irregular heart rhythm.
"The main thing that surprised us was that we could identify the cause of death in 40 percent (17) of the 43 families. We expected about 25 percent," study senior author Dr. Arthur A.M. Wilde, a professor of cardiology at the University of Amsterdam, said in a prepared statement.
Of the 333 first- and second-degree relatives tested, 151 had the same previously unrecognized and potentially fatal heart abnormality as their dead family member. That works out to an average of 8.9 people in each family. Of those 151 people, 138 had mutated genes known to predispose people to early death, the study found.
"Based on our findings, we strongly advise that first-degree relatives (immediate family members) and second-degree relatives (grandparents, aunts and uncles) be referred to a cardiologist for testing," Wilde said.
"Most of the diseases we identified in our study are not only amenable to treatment, but if treated correctly, are also associated with a virtually normal life expectancy," he added.
The Heart Rhythm Society has more about sudden cardiac death.