Send to:

Choose Destination
See comment in PubMed Commons below
Circulation. 1995 Oct 1;92(7):1701-9.

Sudden coronary death. Frequency of active coronary lesions, inactive coronary lesions, and myocardial infarction.

Author information

  • 1Department of Cardiovascular Pathology, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Washington, DC 20306-6000, USA.



The reported frequency of active coronary lesions (plaque rupture and coronary thrombosis) in sudden death due to coronary artery atherosclerosis (sudden coronary death) has varied from < 20% to > 80% of cases in previous series. In hearts lacking an active coronary lesion, sudden death has usually been attributed to a healed myocardial infarction. The purpose of the present study was to determine the frequency of active and inactive coronary lesions and myocardial infarction in individuals with sudden coronary death.


The hearts of persons who died as a result of sudden coronary death underwent perfusion-fixation and postmortem angiography. An active coronary lesion was defined as a disrupted plaque, luminal fibrin/platelet thrombus, or both. We defined an inactive lesion as having a cross-sectional luminal stenosis of > or = 75% with neither plaque disruption nor luminal thrombus. Ninety hearts were examined (from 72 men and 18 women; mean age at the time of death, 51 +/- 10 years). Acute myocardial infarction was present in 19 (21% [acute myocardial infarction only in 9, both acute and healed myocardial infarction in 10]), healed myocardial infarction only in 37 (41%), and no myocardial infarction in 34 (38%). Active coronary lesions were identified in 51 (57%): acute thrombi plus disrupted plaques in 27, acute thrombi only in 21, and disrupted plaques only in 3. In hearts with acute myocardial infarction, active coronary lesions were significantly more prevalent than in hearts with only healed myocardial infarction or hearts lacking an acute or a healed myocardial infarction (89%, 46%, and 50%, respectively; P < .005). Hearts without acute or healed myocardial infarction and without active lesions were similar to hearts with active lesions with respect to heart weight and severity of epicardial coronary disease.


Acute changes in coronary plaque morphology (thrombus, plaque disruption, or both) were found in 57% of cases of sudden coronary death. In hearts with myocardial scars and no acute infarction, active coronary lesions were identified in 46% of cases. Neither myocardial infarction (acute or healed) nor an active coronary lesion was present in 19% of hearts.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text
PubMed Commons home

PubMed Commons

How to join PubMed Commons

    Supplemental Content

    Full text links

    Icon for HighWire
    Loading ...
    Write to the Help Desk