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Non-atherosclerotic coronary artery disease associated with sudden cardiac death
  1. Sharleen F Hill,
  2. Mary N Sheppard
  1. Imperial College London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Mary N Sheppard, CRY Centre for Cardiac Pathology, Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Trust Hospital, Sydney Street, London SW3 6NP; National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London, UK; m.sheppard{at}


Background The concept of non-atherosclerotic coronary artery pathology in sudden cardiac death (SCD) has not been given the attention it deserves.

Objective To determine the incidence of non-atherosclerotic coronary artery pathology in SCD and raise awareness among cardiologists and pathologists alike.

Design Retrospective non-case-controlled analysis.

Setting Cardiac pathology centre at the National Heart and Lung Institute and Royal Brompton Hospital.

Subjects Between 1994 and 2008, the hearts of 1647 people undergoing SCD were referred for pathological assessment to ascertain the precise aetiology of SCD.

Results Fifty (3.0%) of the 1647 cases of SCD were associated with non-atherosclerotic coronary pathology (31 male subjects (62%) and 19 female subjects (38%, age range (8 weeks–71 years)). Twenty four of the 50 cases had anomalous coronary arteries (48%); eight cases had coronary artery dissection (16%); six cases had coronary artery vasculitis (12%); six cases had coronary artery spasm (12%); three cases had idiopathic arterial calcification of infancy (6%); two cases had fibromuscular dysplasia (4%) and one case had a benign tumour occluding the left coronary ostium (2%). Only 20 of the 50 patients (40%) were documented to have experienced cardiac symptoms such as syncope, chest pain on exertion or breathlessness before their SCD. Twelve of the patients (24%) died during or immediately after physical exertion.

Conclusion Non-atherosclerotic coronary disease is associated with sudden death in all age groups, particularly younger, male patients. Cardiologists need to be aware of these entities and investigate any patient who has cardiac symptoms especially with exertion.

  • Anomalous coronary artery
  • sudden cardiac death
  • coronary artery vasculitis
  • fibromuscular dysplasia
  • idiopathic calcification of infancy
  • syncope
  • ventricular fibrillation

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  • See Editorial, p 1084

  • Linked articles 188953.

  • Funding Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) Charity.

  • Competing interests None.

  • Ethics approval This study was conducted with the approval of the Royal Brompton Hospital, London.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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