SOURCES: Sumeet Chugh, M.D., associate director, Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles; Christopher Granger, M.D., professor of medicine, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, N.C., and spokesperson, American Heart Association; July 20, 2015, Circulation, online
MONDAY, July 20, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Black Americans are more likely than whites to experience sudden cardiac arrest, according to a new study.
The study also found that sudden cardiac arrest often occurs at an earlier age in blacks than in whites.
Sudden cardiac arrest occurs when the electrical system of the heart malfunctions. This causes the heart to beat erratically or to stop beating. As a result, blood isn't pumped throughout the body.
"Sudden cardiac arrest is significantly higher in black Americans compared to whites, at least twofold higher," said study researcher Dr. Sumeet Chugh, associate director of the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles.
Blacks in the United States tend to have sudden cardiac arrest an average of six years earlier than whites, Chugh said.
In his study, he found other major differences as well. "Blacks, in addition to being younger, tended to have more diabetes, more high blood pressure and more kidney problems, or chronic renal disease," he said.
Chugh said he isn't certain what's driving the differences in sudden cardiac arrest between blacks and whites. It's possible it might be genetics, cultural differences in lifestyle or other factors, he suggested. Inadequate health coverage may be another factor, he said.
The study is published in the July 20 online edition of the American Heart Association journal Circulation.
Chugh and his team collected data on almost 1,300 white people and more than 120 black people. They all had experienced sudden cardiac arrest between 2002 and 2012.
Sudden cardiac arrest happens about 350,000 times a year in the United States, Chugh said. Survival is no higher than 10 percent, he added. Many people die almost instantaneously, often with no prior warnings, according to the researchers.
While most whites who suffer sudden cardiac arrest are over age 65, most blacks are under age 65, Chugh said.
The study findings point to the need to pay attention to the diseases that raise heart disease risk and tend to accompany sudden cardiac arrest in blacks, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and kidney problems, he said.
While 33 percent of the whites in the study had diabetes, 52 percent of the blacks did. High blood pressure was a problem for 77 percent of the blacks, compared to 65 percent of the whites. Chronic kidney failure was nearly twice as likely in blacks, with 34 percent of them having the condition, the researchers found.
The study findings "fit in with the general pattern of blacks having adverse health outcomes" in relation to heart health, said Dr. Christopher Granger, a spokesperson for the American Heart Association and professor of medicine at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Granger reviewed the study's findings, but wasn't involved in the study.
The take-home message is clear, he said. "This is yet another set of data to reinforce the need and priority and opportunity to control risk factors in African Americans in order to reduce their consequences of cardiovascular disease."
Learning that controlling high blood pressure may reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death may increase a patient's motivation to work harder to do so, he suggested.
To learn more about sudden cardiac arrest, visit the American Heart Association.