Sudden Cardiac Death in Women: Causes of Death, Autopsy Findings, and Electrocardiographic Risk Markers

M. Anette E. Haukilahti, Lauri Holmström, Juha Vähätalo, Tuomas Kentta, Jani Tikkanen, Lasse Pakanen, Marja Leena Kortelainen, Juha Perkiömäki, Heikki Huikuri, Robert J. Myerburg, M. Juhani Junttila

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Background: Despite recent progress in profiling of risk for sudden cardiac death (SCD) and prevention and intervention of cardiac diseases, SCD remains a major cause of death. Among women, the incidence of SCD is significant, but lower than in men, particularly in the premenopausal and early postmenopausal years. Possibly, as a consequence of the difference in population burden, the mechanisms and risk markers of SCD are not as well defined for women. The aim of this study was to determine the autopsy findings and causes of death among women in a large SCD population. Additionally, we sought to classify prior ECG characteristics in male and female subjects with SCD. Methods: The Fingesture study has systematically collected clinical and autopsy data from subjects with SCD in Northern Finland between 1998 and 2017. The cohort consists of 5869 subjects with SCD. Previously recorded ECGs were available and analyzed in 1101 subjects (18.8% of total population; and in 25.3% of women). Results: Female subjects with SCD were significantly older than men: 70.1±13.1 years versus 63.5±11.8 years (mean ± standard deviation, P<0.001). The most frequently identified cause of death was ischemic heart disease in both sexes: 71.7% among women versus 75.7% among men, P=0.005. In contrast, women were more likely to have nonischemic cause of SCD than men (28.3% versus 24.3%, P=0.005). The prevalence of primary myocardial fibrosis was higher among women (5.2%, n=64) than in men (2.6%, n=120; P<0.001). Female subjects with SCD were more likely to have normal prior ECG tracings (22.2% versus 15.3% in men, P<0.001). A normal ECG was even more common among nonischemic female subjects with SCD (27.8% versus 16.2% in men, P=0.009). However, ECG markers of left ventricular hypertrophy, with or without repolarization abnormalities, were more common among women (8.2%; 17.9%) than in men (4.9%; 10.6%, P=0.036; P<0.001, respectively). Conclusions: Women were considerably older at the time of SCD and more commonly had nonischemic causes. Women were also more likely to have a prior normal ECG than men, but an increased marker for SCD risk based on ECG criteria for left ventricular hypertrophy with repolarization abnormalities was more commonly observed in women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1012-1021
Number of pages10
Issue number8
StatePublished - Feb 19 2019


  • autopsy
  • death, sudden, cardiac
  • electrocardiography
  • sex

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine
  • Physiology (medical)


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