Sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) is a genetic condition that causes sudden death in young, otherwise healthy, people. It is caused by a change (mutation) in a person’s gene or DNA. This mutation creates an abnormality in the heart which changes the way the heart beats (heart arrhythmia). The heart will speed up/slow down to the point where it can no longer pump blood. Often the heart will go back to its normal rhythm, but sometimes it will stop completely causing death. There are six different types of SADS.
A ‘SADS death’ is always sudden and often without prior warning. Warning signs of SADS include fainting or seizure during exercise or excitement, consistent or unusual chest pain or shortness of breath during exercise especially swimming, sudden fainting or seizure preceded by a sensation of a racing heart, or waking from sleep suddenly with dizziness or vision disturbance. SADS occurs more often in people aged 5 – 35. About 4000 people under the age of 35 die each year of unexpected heart arrhythmias in the United States.
Since there are usually no symptoms of SADS, diagnosis may be made after death by ruling out other possible causes. However if there is a family history of unexplained death in people younger than age 35, your primary care doctor may advise you to see a cardiologist. A cardiologist will run tests to see if an abnormal heart rhythm can be detected with an EKG (ECG or electrocardiogram) at rest and possibly during exercise. You may be asked to wear a heart monitor so your heart rhythm can be detected for a longer period of time. Unfortunately even then not all those affected will have a change of rhythm during the monitoring period. If you or a family member has a family history of SADS or been diagnosed with SADS, talk with your cardiologist about the most current diagnosis and treatment options. Support groups are also a good source of information and support.