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Genetics and Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome - Healthcare Quality Improvement Campaign
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What is Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS)?

Sudden arrhythmic death syndromes (SADS) are heart conditions that can cause a sudden, seemingly unexplained death in otherwise healthy individuals. SADS is not an individual disease. Instead, it is a descriptor for many types of cardiac genetic diseases that can unexpectedly kill an individual. If a relative has had an unexpected cardiac event, it may be worth investing in a cardiac genetic screen to find any harmful mutations.

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SADS are genetically inherited cardiac diseases, meaning that they are passed from parents to children at birth. While a child is born with the genetic mutation that can cause a sudden arrhythmic death, they may not ever develop a malignant strain of the condition. Like many other genetic cardiac conditions, most cardiac genetic diseases that can cause sudden arrhythmic death can be managed and mitigated through healthy living and heart habits. Many cases of SADS are found through posthumous cardiac genetic testing, which allows doctors to examine the genetic material for any mutations.

Symptoms of SADS?

If you experience these symptoms, they may be a sign you are at risk for Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome.

  • Chest pain or shortness of breath: especially during or after after exercise or rigorous physical activity, chest tightness, chest pain, or abnormal shortness of breath might be a sign that your heart is having to work harder than normal to bear the physical strain. This can be a warning sign of a cardiomyopathy or arrhythmia.
  • Fainting: also after exercise or rigorous activity, fainting can be a sign your body is not getting blood to important organs or your brain.
  • Unexplained familial death: this is the biggest sign you are at risk for SADS. If anyone in your family died unexpectedly from a cardiac event, particularly under the age of 40, talk to your doctor about a cardiac screening.

These symptoms can be serious and should be treated with caution. Most cases of SADS are undetected until they are fatal. If the body is genetically tested and found positive for a mutation that causes SADS, a cascade of genetic testing helps identify other family members with the disease.

Management for Potential SADS

Because SADS is not a single disease but a descriptor for different genetic cardiac diseases, there is not a single way to manage the disease. If you are diagnosed with a disease that could lead to a sudden arrhythmic death, talk to your doctor about ways to manage your individual disease. Some management strategies include eating heart healthy foods and keeping a healthy weight. Others include medication to strengthen the heart or ease its strain. Finally, many doctors will advocate for an implanted cardiac defibrillator. This will help regulate your heart and restart it if an arrhythmic event were to occur. For a more all-encompassing lifestyle solution, many nursing homes are equipped to help patients deal with medical conditions like those that lead to SADS.

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