Sudden death in the young. Is acute coronary thrombosis the major precipitating factor?
BACKGROUND Atherosclerotic coronary artery disease, complicated by acute thrombosis, is the usual cause of sudden death in adults. This study addresses the pathology of coronary arteries in sudden death in the young (< or = 35 years old).
METHODS AND RESULTS Among 200 consecutive cases of sudden death in youth in the Veneto region of Italy, 37 (33 men and 4 women, age 18 to 35 years; mean, 29.4 years) showed obstructive atherosclerotic coronary artery disease in the absence of other cardiac pathological conditions and causes of death. No patient had previous angina pectoris or myocardial infarction. Cardiac arrest occurred at rest in 30 subjects and was related to effort in 7. A histological study was carried out on the obstructive coronary plaques. Degree of lumen stenosis and extension of lipid core and intimal fibrocellular hyperplasia facing the lumen were calculated morphometrically. Immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy were used to further characterize the plaque cell population. Single-vessel disease was found in 33 patients and triple-vessel disease in 4, with an overall total of 45 obstructive plaques, 34 of which were located in the proximal left anterior descending coronary artery. At histological study, only 10 plaques from 10 patients showed acute thrombosis (occlusive in 5 and subocclusive in 5); the remaining 35 were uncomplicated. Thirty-one plaques were fibrous in nature, while the other 14 were atheromatous. Compared with the atheromatous lesions, the fibrous plaques were rarely complicated by thrombosis (3% versus 64%; P < .001) and distinctly exhibited a fairly well-preserved tunica media (81% versus 21%; P < .001) as well as a stratum of neointimal fibrocellular hyperplasia (68% versus 7%; P < .001), which on immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy appeared to be proliferating smooth muscle cells.
CONCLUSIONS In our study population, sudden death was precipitated by acute coronary thrombosis in only 27% of patients with obstructive coronary atherosclerotic plaque. Most of the young victims of sudden death with obstructive coronary atherosclerosis showed single-vessel disease that affected the left anterior descending coronary artery and was due to fibrous plaques with neointimal smooth muscle cell hyperplasia and a preserved tunica media in the absence of acute thrombosis.
- Copyright © 1994 by American Heart Association