The findings, published in the European Heart Journal, should help doctors assess their patients for the risk of sudden cardiac death and pinpoint the direction for future preventative measures against it, said the researchers.
This could include prescribing beta-blockers or withdrawing drugs that prolong the interval between the QT waves of the heart’s electrical cycle – including some cold remedies, antibiotics, antidepressants and adrenaline.
The team of Danish and Belgian researchers collated data from almost 15,000 people aged 45 or older in the first study to link COPD and sudden cardiac death risk in the general population, independently of the known link between COPD and all-cause death.
The researchers found that living with COPD for over five years more than doubled a person’s risk of sudden cardiac death.
The findings could help understand the risk factors behind sudden cardiac death, which is responsible for around half of the 5m heart disease deaths worldwide.
COPD is already the world’s third-leading cause of death, with smoking thought to be the leading risk factor for the disease.
‘The most important way to prevent COPD and sudden cardiac death is not to smoke and to have a healthy lifestyle,’ said author Dr Marieke Niemeijer.
‘If a person does develop COPD, then this is even more important, as smoking and an unhealthy, sedentary lifestyle have been proven to increase the risk of sudden cardiac death.
‘Therefore, smoking cessation is not only important for the course of COPD but also for the development of heart problems and, subsequently, the occurrence of sudden cardiac death.’