Is sauna bathing protective of sudden cardiac death? A review of the evidence

Jari A. Laukkanen*, Setor K. Kunutsor

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)
46 Downloads (Pure)

Abstract

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a global public health burden accounting for 15–20% of all deaths. Though established atherosclerotic risk factors explain a large proportion of the risk of SCD, these factors are often absent in a large proportion of SCD victims and the pathogenesis of SCD is still not fully established. It therefore appears that additional factors may be involved. Sauna bathing is a traditional Finnish activity that is mainly used for the purposes of relaxation and pleasure. Beyond its use for these purposes, sauna bathing has been linked with several health benefits. Emerging evidence suggests that sauna bathing is associated with reduced risk of adverse cardiovascular (CV) disease (CVD) and non-CVD outcomes as well as mortality. A number of reports have linked sauna bathing with reduced or increased risk of SCD, but the evidence is uncertain. This review summarizes available studies linking sauna bathing with SCD, the postulated mechanistic pathways underlying these associations, outlines areas of outstanding uncertainty, and the implications for prevention. We employed a comprehensive search for observational studies, randomized controlled trials (RCTs), and non-RCTs from MEDLINE and Embase since their inception until March 2019. Observational data suggest that regular sauna bathing is associated with a substantial risk reduction in SCD. Furthermore, the data suggest that a combination of regular physical activity and sauna baths confers substantial risk reduction for SCD compared with either modality alone. Few reports have linked sauna baths with SCDs, but these single case incidents have been attributed to the effects of dehydration, hypotension, and cardiac arrhythmias due to a combination of sauna exposure and alcohol consumption. Sauna bathing is generally safe for most healthy people and even among patients with stable CVD, if used sensibly and with caution. Plausible pathways underlying the protective effect of sauna bathing on SCD may be linked to the impact on CV function via reduced arterial stiffness, decreases in inflammation and oxidative stress, stabilization of the autonomic nervous system, beneficial changes in circulating lipid profiles and other CVD risk markers, and lowering of systemic blood pressure. Sauna is a potential novel tool to promote SCD prevention in addition to other known means, being an enjoyable way to take care of general health and well-being.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberYPCAD-00978
Pages (from-to)288-293
Number of pages6
JournalProgress in Cardiovascular Diseases
Volume62
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 May 2019

Keywords

  • Finnish sauna bathing
  • sudden cardiac death

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