One in nine men and one in 30 women will die from a sudden heart attack before they reach the age of 70, new research has warned.
Sudden cardiac death claims thousands of lives each year, and is most likely to strike people with no prior symptoms and no history of cardiovascular disease, the findings show.
The study represents the first to offer a lifetime risk estimate for the condition.
Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and senior author of the study, said his team's research suggests regular screening should be offered to try and pick up those at risk.
'These numbers should raise a red flag,' he said.
'We often screen for conditions that are less common and much less deadly than sudden cardiac death.
'For instance, the lifetime risk for colon cancer is about one in 21, and for this reason everyone over the age of 50 is told to have a colonoscopy.
'But by comparison the lifetime risk of sudden cardiac death for men is one in nine, and yet we're not really screening it.'
In the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, Dr Lloyd-Jones and his team examined data of more than 5,200 men and women aged 28 to 62 who were free of cardiovascular disease.
The researchers focused on the blood pressure, cholesterol, smoking and diabetes, calculating an estimation for the risk of sudden cardiac death
They discovered that sudden cardiac death was greater for men than women, especially those with high blood pressure and other cardiovascular symptoms.
Other key findings from the study include:
- sudden cardiac death occurred in 375 people during follow up;
- sudden cardiac death risk was greater for men than women - with an overall 10.9 per cent lifetime risk among all men at age 45 (roughly one in nine men) and a 2.8 percent lifetime risk of among all women at age 45 (or about one in 30 women);
- men with two or more major risk factors at all ages had even higher lifetime risks for of at least 12 per cent (or more than one in eight men);
- high blood pressure alone or a combination of other cardiovascular risk factors was associated with higher lifetime risk of sudden cardiac death
- high blood pressure levels helped identify lifetime risk of smore accurately in both men and women than any other single risk factor.
Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, and senior author of the study, said his team's research suggests regular screening should be offered to try and pick up those at risk. 'These numbers should raise a red flag,' he said. 'We often screen for conditions that are less common and much less deadly than sudden cardiac death'
Though sudden cardiac death is a leading cause of death in the US, in the past methods for predicting its risk in a person's lifetime have been partly successful, missing many people who ultimately succumb to it.
Dr Lloyd-Jones said: 'Sudden cardiac death has been very hard to study because most patients had no history of heart problems and were not being monitored at the time of their death.
'The majority of all cases occur before age 70; this is obviously sudden and devastating for families, with a burden that can be quite severe.
'Our paper sets the stage for thinking about how we can screen the population effectively to find out who's at risk.'