New information from a comparison of three major heart studies is showing a disturbing trend in men's heart health.  Men, especially African-American men age 40 and over, have a one in eight chance of experiencing sudden cardiac death, triple that of women in that age group, whose risk is one in 24.  Sudden cardiac death occurs when the heart suddenly loses function, often without a prior diagnosis of heart disease. If treatment, such as cardiopulmonary resuscitation and defibrillation, isn't given to the person suffering the episode quickly, the person dies within minutes. According to the American Heart Association, nearly 300,000 Americans die each year from sudden cardiac arrest.

"Compare this with the lifetime risk for lung cancer, which is one in 12 for men and one in 16 for colon cancer, and one in 17 for both in women," said Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., associate professor of medicine and preventive medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago and lead author of the study.

The study examined sudden cardiac death data on nearly 5,000 Americans involved in three major heart studies. Findings also included the following:

  • African-American men had about twice the risk of sudden cardiac death as white men at any age. Risks for African-American women and white women were about the same in all age groups.
  • The risk for sudden cardiac death actually goes down for both men and women as they age.
  • Traditional risk factors for heart disease, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, lack of physical activity and smoking, also raises a person's chances of experiencing sudden cardiac death.

The good news for men in this risk group is that the same treatment and prevention strategies known to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke also lower their chances for sudden cardiac death, including:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating a nutritious diet of vegetables, fruits, unrefined whole-grain foods, lean meats and poultry without the skin and oily fish containing omega-3 fatting acids, such as salmon, trout and herring, at least twice a week.
  • Increasing the amount of physical activity to match the amount of calories you take in each day. Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity most days of the week-and optimally 30 minutes every day.