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Obesity might cause sudden cardiac arrest in the young

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© iStockphoto / Andrea Skjol © iStockphoto / Andrea Skjol

(HealthDay News) -- Obesity and high blood pressure may play a much greater role in sudden cardiac arrest among young people than previously thought, a new study suggests.

The findings highlight the need to screen for these risk factors at a younger age, according to researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

"The added benefit of such screenings is that early efforts to reduce cardiovascular risk are known to translate into reduction of adult cardiovascular disease," lead researcher Dr. Sumeet Chugh said in a hospital news release. He's associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

Sudden cardiac arrest is caused by defective electrical activity. It is different from a heart attack, which is typically caused by blocked heart arteries. Sudden cardiac arrest can occur with little or no warning and usually causes immediate death.

The study analyzed nearly 3,800 cases of death from sudden cardiac arrest among patients in Oregon, and focused specifically on those ages 5 to 34. Although recent cases from the basketball court and baseball field have gotten media attention, only a small percentage of deaths in the study were from playing sports, the researchers said.

Instead, the researchers found that the patients had an unexpectedly high rate (nearly 60 percent) of heart disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and smoking.

The study, which spanned more than 10 years, offers important new insight into sudden cardiac arrest among young people, Chugh said.

"One of the revelations of this study is that risk factors such as obesity may play a much larger role for the young who die from sudden cardiac arrest than previously known," he said.

It might help to screen children and teens for these problems at their regular medical checkups, Chugh said.

The study was published recently in the journal Circulation.

More information

The Heart Rhythm Society has more on sudden cardiac arrest.

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