Sudden cardiac death is a result of the heart abruptly shutting down. Often it's the final stage of a heart attack.
While most victims are in their 60s and 70s, the latest study by Centers for Disease Control reported today that the rate of young people dying from cardiac arrest has soared in the last 10 years.
The CDC says there are 3,000 of these deaths annually among Americans age 15 to 34, a 10 percent increase during the past decade.
"We're talking about young adults," says Dr. George Mensah of the Centers for Disease Control, "who have no symptoms and who die suddenly, sometimes within an hour of having their first onset of symptoms."
Danielle Brender appeared perfectly healthy until she suffered a sudden cardiac death last April. She was 11 years old.
"She was a picture of health," says her mother, Sharon Brender, "so we couldn't understand how this could possibly happen."
An autopsy revealed Danielle had a genetic condition that triggered an irregular heartbeat. Her sisters now take medication to protect themselves from a similar death.
Reducing Your Risk
The CDC study says that for many young people, sudden cardiac death is preventable, especially through screenings for families with a history of this kind of death. The study suggests that for others, basic improvements in eating and exercise habits might reduce the risk.
Many of the deaths involved clogged arteries. A study last year of 249 teenagers found that 80 percent had an unhealthy buildup of cholesterol on artery walls, often the result of eating high-fat foods.
Obesity is another major risk factor. Between 1989 to 1999, the obesity rate among Americans aged 18 to 29 more than doubled from 5 percent to 12 percent.
For an increasing number of younger Americans, the warning is clear:
"It's not that you can wait and do the right thing and develop lifestyles when you're 40 or 50 and have them kick in and protect you," says Rose Marie Robertson, the president of the American Heart Association.
As today's study shows, some people never get that chance.