Sudden cardiac death historical perspective

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1] Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Sara Zand, M.D.[2] Edzel Lorraine Co, DMD, MD[3]


Sudden cardiac death (SCD) was initially described by Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine. MacWilliam proposed the concept that SCD in human beings is due to ventricular fibrillation (VF) more than 120 years ago, during the time when the electrocardiogram was not yet invented.[1]

The concept of evolutions on how the relationship of SCD and VF was established, the development of defibrillators was achieved, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) methods were practiced, can provide a better description of how SCD evolved through time. [1]


  • The importance of VF became clear after decades of exploring the scientific explanation for sudden cardiac death.

Landmark Events in the Development of Treatment Strategies

Table 1.Personalities With Significant Historical Contribution to the Discovery of Sudden Cardiac Death.
Name Image Description
John A. MacWilliam
John A. MacWilliam.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
  • He initially described SCD as early as 4th century B.C.
  • He stated that patients who frequently experience severe fainting attacks are more likely to die abruptly.
Lyman Brewer
  • He suggested that the first recorded VF was first noted in 1500 B.C.
  • His original statements are found in Eber papyrus in Egypt.[1]
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
  • He described the "worm-like" movements found in an animal's heart before death.
John Erichsen
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Carl Ludwig and M Hoffa
Carl Ludwig.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
  • They demonstrated the application of electric current to induce VF in dogs.
  • His experiments on women's heart were the first records of electric stimulation of heart in vivo.

Development of Defibrillators

Table 2. The development of defibrillation therapy for sudden cardiac death.
Name Image Description
Jean Luis Prevost and Frederic Battelli
  • In 1899, Swish researchers Prevost and Batteli reported that VF can be induced by low currents, and terminated by strong discharges.
William Kouwenhoven and Guy Knickerbocker
William Kouwenhoven.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
  • They observed that a second alternating current shock could still bring back the life of an electrocuted dog.
Albert Hyman and C. Henry Hyman
  • They invented the "Hyman Otor" which utilized an electric shock as an alternative to drug injection.
  • This experiment was not accepted by medical community.
Claude Beck
Claude Beck.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
Eskin and Klimov
Bernard Lown and Barouh Berkovits
Bernard Lown.
(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)
  • In 1959, they introduced the direct current defibrillation with 1000 volts of bank capacitors, and 100 to 200 Joules of energy content.
  • Modifications to this defibrillator followed, which later on enabled the synchronized cardioversion.
McNeilly and Pemberton
Stephen Heilman and Michel Mirowski
Morton Mower
  • He is a junior cardiologist with extensive animal studies and was later on joined by Mirowski to work on an ICD.
  • This was published after several rejections.
John Schuder
  • He developed the present day miniature version of ICD with reliable, low-energy, high-voltage, and biphasic waveform features.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Abhilash SP, Namboodiri N (2014). "Sudden cardiac death--historical perspectives". Indian Heart J. 66 Suppl 1 (Suppl 1): S4–9. doi:10.1016/j.ihj.2014.01.002. PMC 4237290. PMID 24568828.

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