OHSU Researchers Launch Nation's First Comprehensive Study Into Causes of Sudden Unexplained Death

02/01/02    Portland, Ore.

Multnomah County will be field for groundbreaking cardiac arrest study

Approximately 90 percent of cardiac arrest patients die of their attacks and as many as 15 percent of those deaths can remain unexplained. Determining why these sudden deaths occur and how to prevent them is the impetus of a novel study being launched by researchers at Oregon Health & Science University today.

Thanks to funding from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, OHSU and community collaborators are launching the Oregon Sudden Unexplained Death Study (SUDS), an ambitious project to track all cardiac arrests that occur in Multnomah County for one year. The information gleaned from this project will, for the first time, provide accurate statistics on the number of cardiac arrests in the county, where they occur and what medical factors led to the event.

"We hope to compile a comprehensive assessment of circumstances surrounding cardiac arrests in Multnomah County," said Sumeet Chugh, M.D., OHSU cardiologist and principal investigator of the study. This information has the potential to equip medical providers, locally and nationally, with better means of predicting and preventing sudden cardiac arrest."

The project will involve participation from American Medical Response, the sole ambulance service for Multnomah County, Multnomah County Emergency Medical Services, the Oregon Medical Examiner's office as well as 16 local hospitals. "While several research studies have dealt with improving resuscitation efforts, few have focused on assessing mechanisms of sudden death in this manner. In order to uncover potential causes of sudden unexplained death, we want to capture each and every case of cardiac arrest," said Chugh.

Nationwide, about 400,000 sudden cardiac deaths occur each year, or about one-sixth of all deaths in the country. In Oregon that translates into nearly 4,000 deaths a year. Of these deaths, about 400-500 are likely to remain unexplained. Oregon SUDS will be the first study of its kind to proactively look at clinical information of the patients who suffer cardiac arrest, post-mortem evidence of patients who die, and genetic analysis of all survivors, non-survivors and relatives of these patients.

"We are careful to explain to family members that everything will be done on an informed consent basis. Where consent is given, we would like to do tests on blood samples of people who suffer cardiac arrest or their relatives to determine if there is a genetic predisposition to cardiac arrest in these families," said Chugh.

In the process, this team will compile the most extensive registry ever of Oregon patients who suffer sudden cardiac death, a registry that could yield volumes of cardiac and genetic research over time. "The information we get should help us find clues that can predict sudden cardiac episodes in others before they happen," said Chugh.

The study will take place from Feb 1, 2002 to Feb. 1, 2003. Results will be compiled and analyzed following completion of the project and are intended to be published by early 2004. February is American Heart Month.

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