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By its very nature, sudden death is not easy to grasp. But a new study sheds some light on the phenomenon and gives hope for better understanding.

Where a definite cause of death could be established in the recent University of Edinburgh study, there were three main causes of sudden, unexpected death:

Heart failure. This accounted for 56% of deaths observed and is also the leading cause of sudden deaths in humans

Internal haemorrhage. The cause of 25% of fatalities, with the main source of bleeding being one of the large vessels in the chest or abdomen. Interestingly, and contrary to previous thought, just 3% of these could be attributed to a ruptured aorta. Most were caused by a bone fragment severing a major blood vessel

Broken neck. The third most frequent cause of death was damage to the spinal cord caused by a fractured vertebra in the neck

Read more about the potential causes of sudden death in our comprehensive vet feature in 2 December issue of Horse & Hound, on sale now

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