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Sudden death after arrest may be new syndrome

Ben Hirschler / Reuters | September 3, 2008

MUNICH - Young men who die suddenly after being arrested by the police may be victims of a new syndrome similar to one that kills some wild animals when they are captured, Spanish researchers said on Tuesday.

Manuel Martinez Selles of Madrid's Hospital Gregorio Maranon reached the conclusion after investigating 60 cases of sudden unexplained deaths in Spain following police detention.

In one third of the cases, death occurred at the point of arrest, while in the remainder death was within 24 hours, Selles told the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

All but one of the casualties were male and their average age was just 33 years, with no previous history of cardiovascular disease.

"Something unusual is going on," Sells said.

Just why they died remains a mystery but he believes young men, in particular, may experience surges in blood levels of chemicals known as catecholamines when under severe stress.

Adrenaline is one of the most abundant catecholamines.

"We know that when a wild animal is captured, sometimes the animal dies suddenly," he said.