Heart scans reveal cause of sudden cardiac arrests in the young

6 June 2017        

Category: Research

The two types of defibrillator

Young people who have a sudden cardiac arrest should be offered an MRI scan of the heart called cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging to diagnose the underlying cause, according to research presented at the British Cardiovascular Society (BCS) Conference today.

The findings show that CMR picks up the causes of a cardiac arrest in more than twice as many young people as an echocardiogram.

Changing guidelines 

This could help refine current guidelines and benefit many thousands of young people with undiagnosed heart conditions that have had a cardiac arrest and may be at risk of another event.

Current guidelines state that patients who have survived a sudden cardiac arrest should be given either an echocardiogram or a CMR scan in order to identify the cause. Now, researchers say that anyone under the age of 40 who survives a sudden cardiac arrest should be considered for a CMR scan.

Identifying the cause of sudden cardiac arrest

Researchers, funded by the British Heart Foundation, followed 89 people under the age of 40 who had been resuscitated after having had a sudden cardiac arrest. They found that CMR imaging was able to identify the cause of the cardiac arrest in 53 per cent of survivors, compared with just 18 per cent using an echocardiogram.

What is sudden cardiac arrest?

Sudden cardiac arrest is a condition in which the heart suddenly and unexpectedly stops beating. If this happens, blood stops flowing to the brain and other vital organs. A sudden cardiac arrest can be caused by a number of underlying heart diseases, which if left undetected may lead to a second cardiac arrest.

There are more than 30,000 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests in the UK each year and fewer than 1 in 10 people who have a cardiac arrest out of hospital will survive.

The underlying conditions are often fatal

Professor Sir Nilesh Samani, Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, said:

“Some of the underlying conditions that cause a young person to have a cardiac arrest, such as dilated cardiomyopathy, can be managed. But if these diseases go undiagnosed then they can often prove to be fatal.

“If these results are confirmed in larger studies, clinical guidelines will need to change.

“Research like this is vital in helping us to improve the diagnosis of heart disease, which will ultimately improve survival.”