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What Causes Sudden Cardiac Death in Young Adults? An Expert’s Viewpoint

What Causes Sudden Death In Young Adults?

What Causes Sudden Death In Young Adults?

In the past few years, many young celebrities as well as people you know have died unexpectedly from cardiac attacks. The frequency of young adults dying from sudden cardiac arrest appears to have increased in recent years, but this is not as shocking as it may appear.

It is estimated that perhaps 1 in 50,000 sudden cardiac deaths per year occur in young athletes. These sudden deaths in the young population (18-50 years of age), often occur due to undiscovered heart problems. These unfortunate sudden deaths mostly happen during intense physical activity and are more common in males than females.

Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Electrophysiologist, Dr. Devendra Singh Bisht, discusses and gives his expert opinion on the causes of sudden deaths in young adults, red flags and preventive measures that can be taken to avoid such unfortunate incidents.

What Causes Sudden Death In Young Adults?

Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a potentially fatal condition caused by an “abrupt and unexpected loss of cardiac function leading to loss of consciousness and fainting.” SCA can be catastrophic if not handled immediately.

Various disorders of the heart predispose it to ventricular arrhythmia (an abnormal rhythm causing the heart to beat out of control). Some of these disorders are heritable. 

A few of the common diseases that cause sudden death in young adults are as follows: 

Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy: 

In this heritable disorder, the heart muscles thicken and cause disruption of the heart’s electrical system, causing fast or irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias), which can result in sudden cardiac death.

Cardiac Channelopathies: 

People with this group of heritable disorders develop fast, chaotic heartbeats and die unexpectedly while having a structurally normal heart. Meaning, they show no indications of heart disease but have genes that predispose them to heart arrhythmias.

Anomalous Coronary Arteries (ACA): 

In this disorder, the coronary arteries are connected abnormally or have a malformation. The malformation is congenital (present at birth) and is most often related to the origin or location of the coronary artery. These can get compressed during exercise and may lead to sudden death.


Selective viruses/illnesses cause inflammation of heart muscles leading to heart muscle weakness and reduce the heart’s ability to pump, causing rapid or abnormal heart rhythms predisposing it to fatal heart attacks.

Commotio Cordis: 

A blunt blow to the chest, perfectly timed to the heart’s electrical cycle can precipitate fatal heartbeats and cause sudden death. This phenomenon has become more well known to the sports communities and is also observed in motor accidents.

Aside from hereditary and congenital structural disorders, an unhealthy lifestyle predisposes young people to the development of coronary artery disease, which leads to sudden cardiac arrest.

Obesity, stress, physical inactivity, poor food, lack of sleep, and an increased rate of substance abuse (opioids, cocaine, cigarettes, and anabolic steroids) have all been documented as risk factors for cardiovascular disease among young adults.

What are the signals or red flags that indicate a young person is at high risk of sudden cardiac arrest?

  • Unexplained syncope (fainting) during physical activity
  • Family history of sudden cardiac death (before the age of 50 years)
  • Pounding heart (palpitations)
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath 

All of these indicate that there might be heart problems.

Screening tests are advised for people who show risk factors for conditions that can cause sudden cardiac death. Even if the first cardiac evaluation proves normal, it is advised that family members be screened again over time. You can get tested for any cardiac ailments you might have at Ayu Health ? Staffed with the best cardiologists in Bangalore and Chandigarh. 

Can sudden cardiac death be prevented?

Yes, depending on the severity of your heart condition, your doctor may advise you to avoid competitive sports as well as medical or surgical treatments.  An automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator(AICD), which is a pager-sized device placed in your chest that continuously monitors your heartbeat, may also be an alternative for some individuals. If a life-threatening heartbeat occurs,  the defibrillator delivers electrical shocks to restore a normal heart rhythm.

Should young people with heart defects avoid physical activity?

Engaging in physical activity offers numerous advantages and should be a part of practically everyone’s life, including the majority of people with congenital heart disease. But competitive and impact sports are not recommended for some disorders, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and those with defibrillators. However, this does not imply you should refrain from exercising. 

When it comes to physical activity restrictions, it is advisable to talk to your doctor. Consult the best cardiologists if you’d like to know more about how you can exercise precautionary measures to prevent sudden cardiac arrests.Ayu Health also offer a wide range of cardiology-related tests and procedures to take care of your heart.

If you need additional resources or would like to speak with a professional, feel free to contact us right away at +91 636-610-0800 or book an appointment on our website. Our expert team is here to assist and support you every step of the way.

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About the Author

Dr. Magesh Balakrishnan
MBBS, MD, DM (Cardiology) at Ayu Health | Website | + posts

Dr. Magesh Balakrishnan is a renowned cardiologist currently practicing at Ayu Health, Bangalore.

He has 16 years of experience in this field. He has excellent skills in performing all cardiac diagnostic procedures/ tests. He has performed emergency and elective angiographies and angioplasties, device implantation (Pacemaker, AICD & CRT)

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