What percentage of deaths are sudden?

Has anyone come across statistics on what percent of people die suddenly, as opposed to gradually?

Sudden death in persons younger than 40 years of age: incidence and causes.

Thanks, Duckster, but I’m actually interested in what percentage of all deaths are sudden.

According to this page*, 300,000 Americans die each year from cardiac arrest alone, out of a total of about 2.4 million deaths, so that accounts for 12.5% of all deaths; there are other causes of sudden death as well (strokes, which are another 129,000 deaths (5.4%), and stuff like aneurysms, I’m assuming you are talking about natural causes of death, not accidents). Note that many of these could be caught and prevented in time if there was better screening for them; for example, sudden cardiac arrest in young people is often due to cardiac abnormalities, not necessarily severe enough to have any noticeable effects or be detectable with routine exams until cardiac arrest occurs; similarly, congenital abnormalities of blood vessels in the brain can lead to stroke but are only detectable with scans like MRIs.

*Note that sudden death is usually defined as death within an hour of symptoms, but I’m not sure if you would really count that as sudden or unexpected in all cases, since you know that somebody having a heart attack could go into cardiac arrest; when I picture it, I see somebody just dropping dead with no warning.

Most people who die are old. Old people tend to have health problems that gradually get worse, and then they die.

About 92% of those who have a sudden heart attack (i.e. they are not in the hospital when they have it) die. Cite.

Stroke survival is better -

Cite. And 36% after a month - cite.

In trauma cases, they talk about the “golden hour” or even the “platinum half hour” in which it is believed that intervention can increase survival rates.

Most people in the West die of chronic disease rather than acute disease, but a lot of chronic diseases other than cancer are diseases where the patient survives the first symptoms and then declines into death.


It is a significant cause of death in the young too though; according to the first link I posted, 16,000 children under the age of 17 die every year from SCD alone, in a group with otherwise very low mortality rates (using the data here, that would be around 25% of all deaths in that age range, making them twice as likely to die from SCD as a percentage of all deaths, even higher if you only include natural causes), so being young and healthy is no reason to think you are immune (as we have unfortunately seen recently, I assume Autolycus’ death brought this up, or my mentioning it as a possible cause in the thread).

Unfortunately, this article is horribly misleading. The author uses the term “heart attack” synonymously with “cardiac arrest” which, of course, is inappropriate. More to the point, “cardiac arrest” means your heart has ‘stopped’ (or gone into a heart rhythm where there is no output from the heart such as ventricular fibrillation), whereas “heart attack” does not at all imply that your heart has ‘stopped’; only that it’s been damaged as a result of receiving inadequate blood flow.

So, what the cited article was trying to say (but screwed up) was that 92% of people with cardiac arrest occurring outside the hospital setting will die.

In terms of heart attack and sudden death, the traditionally quoted figure was that about half of all heart attack victims died before they receive medical attention. However, more recent statistics (probably coupled with improved sensitivity for diagnosing even small heart attacks) would put that figure down to around ten to fifteen percent, i.e. about one heart attack in eight is fatal.

Well, that’s certainly true, but I don’t think anyone suggested that young people are immune to sudden death. It is just that the OP was asking what percentage of deaths overall were sudden as opposed to gradual. And the 92% figure cited above apparently applies to all cardiac deaths, not just young people.

And most deaths occur in the old. So the numbers of deaths in the elderly are going to have a greater effect on the overall rate of sudden death than the smaller number of deaths in the young.

If you consider a group of 100 deaths, and fifty of them are sudden and fifty are gradual, then it doesn’t really affect the percentages if 10 of the sudden deaths are young while only 5 of the gradual deaths are young. IYSWIM.