Nearly half of family members have psychological problems after sudden cardiac death of young relative

Nearly 50 percent of family members had significant psychological difficulties after the sudden cardiac death of a young relative, according to a cross-sectional survey in Australia.

The researchers said prolonged grief and posttraumatic stress were associated with poor health outcomes.

Lead researcher Jodie Ingles, PhD, of Centenary Institute in New South Wales, and colleagues published their results online in JAMA Internal Medicine on Jan. 26.

“Current research efforts on [sudden cardiac death] focus primarily on clinical and genetic aspects of management of the decedent’s family,” they wrote. “We suggest that specialized input from a clinical psychologist who can triage ongoing treatment needs is critical in the multidisciplinary clinic setting. In the setting of the [sudden cardiac death] of young, healthy individuals, better support of family members is clearly needed to promote healthy grieving.”

In this study, the researchers recruited adults between July 2013 and December 2014 who had a relative 45 years or younger who died from sudden cardiac arrest without a premorbid diagnosis. To measure prolonged grief and posttraumatic stress in the relatives, they used the 36-Item Medical Outcomes Study Short-Form, version 2 (SF-36v2); the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21 (DASS-21); the Impact of Events Scale-Revised; and the Prolonged Grief Disorder Scale. They collected clinical data about the deceased from their medical records.

In all, 103 participants from 57 families completed the survey for a response rate of 44.4 percent. The mean age of the participants was 44, and 41.7 percent were male. Compared with the general population, participants in this study had more severe depression, anxiety and stress.

Of the participants, 20.6 percent had prolonged grief and 44 percent had posttraumatic stress symptoms. Among the participants with prolonged grief, the mean time since death was 5 years.

In addition, 35.7 percent of the mothers of the decedent and 41.7 percent of those who were witnesses to the death had prolonged grief. Meanwhile, 59.4 percent of the mothers of the decedent and 66.7 percent of those who were witnesses to the death had posttraumatic stress symptoms.