How do People Suddenly Die?

In this guide, we discuss some of the most common causes of sudden death.
How do People Suddenly Die?

Content Warning: Loss of a child

It’s pretty overwhelming when you think about all the different ways we could die. After all, we are human, and no one really knows when our time is up, or how it will happen. Whether a medical condition is known or undetected, or a tragic accident occurs, there are many causes that explain a sudden death. Here are several examples:

Cardiac arrhythmia 

Arrhythmia is a fault in the heart’s electrical system, which affects the pumping rhythm. Common symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Lightheadedness
  • Fainting or feeling faint
  • A racing heart or palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Chest discomfort.

Arrhythmias are not necessarily fatal, but they do need to be managed by a healthcare team as they can cause complications.

Coronary heart disease-related heart attack

When we talk about 'cardiovascular disease', this includes a number of different conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. The most common (and serious) types of cardiovascular disease include:

  • Coronary heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Heart failure.

As the leading single cause of disease related death in Australia, coronary heart disease causes 11% of all deaths, or 42% of cardiovascular disease deaths. It can lead to some serious problems, like chest pain (angina) or heart attacks, for example.

Prevention is possible by maintaining a healthy lifestyle (and some people can also take medication, depending on their circumstances). Although there is no cure, this condition can be managed to reduce symptoms and the risk of experiencing life-threatening complications.

Pulmonary embolism

A pulmonary embolism occurs when a piece or pieces of a blood clot from a leg or pelvic vein breaks off and moves through the vena cava to the right side of the heart. The embolus then travels to the lungs and blocks one or more arteries there, severing the blood supply to the lung. 

A pulmonary embolism mostly occurs in the elderly and people with risk factors. The most common causes and risk factors include:

  • Genetic conditions that increase the risk of blood clots
  • Surgery or injury (especially to the legs) 
  • Situations where mobility is limited, such as extended bed rest or flying for long periods of time
  • Certain medicines, like contraceptive pills or oestrogen replacement therapy
  • Smoking

… and more.

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

SIDS is the name given to the unexpected death of an infant less than one year of age, and the effect it has on families is devastating. The cause of SIDS is unknown, however it may be caused by problems in the area of an infant’s brain that controls breathing and waking from sleep. Some risks may include:

  • Low birthweight. A premature birth or being part of a multiple birth increases the chance that a baby’s brain is unable to fully develop. In some cases, the baby may experience less control over automatic processes like breathing and heart rate.
  • Respiratory infection. A high proportion of infants who died of SIDS had recently had a cold, and we know that even in adults, a cold can lead to respiratory issues.
  • Sleeping on the stomach or side. Babies placed in these sleeping positions could have trouble breathing than those placed on their backs to sleep.
  • Sharing a bed. The risk of SIDS increases if a baby sleeps in the same bed as their parents, siblings or pets. 
  • Overheating while sleeping. Being too warm or hot while sleeping is also another risk factor for SIDS.

There are other actions one can take to minimise the risk of SIDS occurring. For more, head to the Red Nose Australia website.


Sadly, a common cause of death for teens and those under 35 are car accidents or unintentional injuries that could be prevented. Tragically, in the 12 months to April 2022, Australia reported 1157 deaths on the road, with people aged under 26 making up about one in four of the deaths. Federal data showed that this was a 4.2 per cent increase on the previous year. 

Wrap up

The most common causes of sudden death typically occur in the major vital organ systems of the human body. If you have a family history of a medical condition (like heart disease, for example), it’s important to discuss this with your GP so you can take steps to prevent or treat the condition. 

It can be frightening to think about all the ways in which we (and our loved ones) could die. Health anxiety is a real condition, and if you have had a loved one pass away suddenly, it can be extremely difficult to move forward. In this case, it may help to find a good psychologist you feel comfortable with. Remember that you know your body best, so if you’re experiencing unusual symptoms and/or you feel unwell, be sure to visit your GP or seek immediate medical attention. And remember to call 000 if you experience chest pain, shortness of breath or any other kind of emergency symptom. 

If someone close to you has passed away and you need help arranging their funeral, give our team a call on 1300 945 533. We would be honoured to support you at this time.

Disclaimer: The content of this blog is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. This blog should not be relied upon as legal, financial, medical, accounting or tax advice.

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