Brugada syndrome is a disorder that causes an irregular heartbeat. A mutation in the SCN5A gene causes the genetic form of this condition. When this mutation occurs, it may cause an abnormality called a ventricular arrhythmia. This is a type of irregular heartbeat. When this happens, the lower chambers of your heart, or ventricles, beat irregularly and prevent blood from circulating properly in your body. The consequences can be dangerous and may result in death during sleep or rest. The disease has been known as sudden, unexplained nocturnal death syndrome because people with it often die in their sleep.
Symptoms that may occur with Brugada syndrome include:
Who’s at risk
People who seem to be at greatest risk for the disorder are those of Asian descent, particularly Japanese and Southeast Asian ancestry. It occurs eight to 10 times more frequently in men than in women. Researchers speculate that the male hormone testosterone may contribute to the difference in incidence between genders.
Brugada syndrome is rare. It affects about five of every 10,000 people worldwide. Symptoms usually show up during adulthood, although the disorder can develop at any age, including infancy. The average age of death related to the disease is 40 years old.
Sometimes, you acquire Brugada syndrome. When the cause isn’t genetic, Brugada syndrome may be related to medications for arrhythmia, high blood pressure, or mental illness (such as depression). High and low blood potassium levels, and high blood calcium levels, are also linked to acquired Brugada syndrome.
Brugada syndrome may be a genetic disorder. Genetic testing to look for a mutation in your SCN5A gene may help determine your risk. If your doctor discovers a mutation, he or she can begin to take preventive measures to help you avoid the syndrome’s potentially life-threatening consequences.
An implanted cardioverter defibrillator is a common method for preventing the symptoms and sudden death related to Brugada syndrome. When this device detects the start of an arrhythmia, it sends out an electrical impulse to your heart to shock it back into its regular rhythm.
Medications and other surgical techniques treat different types of arrhythmias as well. Discuss all options with a qualified health care provider.
The most serious complication of Brugada syndrome is sudden death. This often occurs while the person is sleeping.
Many cases of Brugada syndrome are related to a genetic mutation. It is not possible for you to prevent inheriting this condition. However, identifying the condition is key to preventing its potential complications.
When to call the doctor
If you experience any of the symptoms of ventricular arrhythmia, seek emergency medical help immediately. If you believe you may be at risk for Brugada syndrome because of your family history or other reasons, consult a health care provider for testing.
- Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
- Sohrabi, Farrokh, MD