Research on the aetiology of sudden cardiac death among young men in Russia strongly suggests an association with binge drinking. However, the possibility remains that such deaths are misclassified as being attributable to cardiovascular disease when they are really caused by acute alcohol poisoning.
To describe postmortem levels of blood alcohol in Russian men dying from various causes and so determine whether deaths from alcohol poisoning are being misclassified as cardiovascular deaths.
Ishevsk, capital of the Udmurt Republic, situated in the Ural region of the Russian Federation.
The study was part of a larger one on adult mortality. The study sample was 309 deaths among men aged 20-55 dying between August 1998 and March 1999 from other than neoplasms, infectious diseases or unspecified causes and on whom necropsy records could be obtained. Information on cause of death was extracted from death certificates and data on postmortem blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from forensic records. Blood alcohol concentrations were adjusted where necessary to allow for delay in necropsy.
Medium or greater levels of intoxication occurred in a quarter of those recorded as dying from cardiovascular disease but in over half of those dying from external causes. BAC levels consistent with at least strong intoxication were seen in 13.5% of deaths from cardiovascular disease and 27.1% from external causes. No cardiovascular deaths had BAC at levels usually thought to be fatal while this level was seen in 26% of deaths from accidental poisoning.
Evidence of recent consumption of alcohol is common among Russian men dying under the age of 55, with severe intoxication common where death is from external causes. However, the high death rates from cardiovascular disease in Russia cannot be explained by misclassification of deaths attributable to acute alcohol poisoning. This study thus resolves one of the outstanding controversies in the story of alcohol and cardiovascular disease in the former Soviet Union.
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