Coronary artery disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately half of the deaths attributable to coronary artery disease are sudden cardiac deaths. A logical approach to prevention of sudden death is to identify those who are at risk and then to initiate effective therapy. Left ventricular dysfunction, frequent ventricular ectopic activity, nonsustained ventricular tachycardia, and late potentials have been identified as markers for increased risk of sudden cardiac death. The sensitivity and specificity of these risk factors vary, and the positive predictive power is less than satisfactory. The value of invasive electrophysiologic testing for risk stratification in the general postinfarction patient population remains unclear. In addition to these diagnostic difficulties, prevention of sudden death also has been limited by imperfect efficacy and potential lethal effects of the currently available antiarrhythmic agents. Automatic implantable defibrillators are effective for aborting sudden death; however, the potential for more general use of automatic defibrillators in asymptomatic but high-risk postinfarction patients has not been evaluated.
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