The initial challenge in primary prevention of sudden cardiac death (SCD) lies in identifying those at greatest risk, before the index event. Ventricular fibrillation is the leading cause of SCD; however, many clinical conditions predispose fatal ventricular dysrhythmias. In patients with structural heart disease, left ventricular dysfunction is the strongest predictor of SCD. Noninvasive markers such as nonsustained ventricular tachycardia, delayed potentials, decreased heart rate variability and baroreflex sensitivity, and repolarization alternans are further observed to assess risk in ischemic cardiomyopathy; however, most of these markers have poor positive predictive value and lack specificity. The electrophysiologic study has strong positive predictive value, but remains a costly and invasive method for risk stratification. In patients with normal hearts, genetic predisposition may identify patients at risk but clinical markers are not readily recognized. The implantable loop recorder is a useful tool in detecting dysrhythmic causes of syncope and identifying patients at risk for SCD.
The past decade has produced evidence that the implantable cardioverter defibrillator is superior to antiarrhythmic drugs or conventional therapy in reducing sudden death in cardiomyopathy, particularly of ischemic origin. Increasing public awareness and wide public access to automated external defibrillator (AED) may further improve the survival in the general population.