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What is SADS?

SADS stands for Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome, a collection of subtle diseases of young hearts, which cause the heart to suddenly go into an abnormal rhythm (ie stops beating normally)

Who is affected?

While SADS can happen to anyone at anytime, it mostly affects young people aged between 12-35.

SADS is the cause of 600 deaths in young people a year.

Knowing the Signs

Don't be scared! These are not common diseases

Generally speaking there are 2 possible scenarios:

  1. A faint which wasn't typical – most faints happen if you are over-hot, over-full, stressed, standing up, etc and you felt like you were going to faint. These cardiac "faints" are more out of the blue
  2. Chest pain, breathlessness or dizziness during or after exercise – not just being unfit, but keeping up with everyone else to begin with, then something odd happens

Are there any other warning signs?

  • In your family is there a history of sudden, unexplained deaths (under the age of 40)?
  • Do you get unusually short of breath during exercise?(not explained by just being unfit!)
  • Do you get palpitations (eg, heart racing fast, missing beats, fluttering sensation, irregular pulse rate, thumping sensation in chest)?

Why have I never heard about it before?

Old age heart disease is common, and often preventable, so attracts a lot of publicity and research funding as it causes 25% of deaths in the UK.

Only in the last 20 years have we realised the extent of the problem of young sudden cardiac death, and made the right diagnosis. Medical science has discovered that many genes (inherited through families) are responsible for many cases of SADS

Can it be treated?

SADS is treatable when monitored and discovered early. The other important factor is timing and to understand what to do if a young person collapses.

  • Good CPR can save lives. While CPR alone isn't enough to rescue someone, it keeps people going until a defibrillator can be applied.
  • If the heart rhythm is VF, then the defibrillator will work if the shocks are delivered within 8 minutes

What's Next?

How do I know? What can I do?

  • If you think you may have symptoms see your own doctor
  • We can all save lives by learning CPR – this "buys time" while someone arrives with the defibrillator
  • Get educated!
  • Get involved!
  • Share the knowledge!

Medical Terms Explained

  • Arrhythmia – an abnormal heart rhythm
  • Cardiac – matters of the heart
  • Cardiac arrest – no pulse, death imminent
  • Defibrillator – machine which delivers electric shocks to convert VF rhythm back to normal, in cardiac arrest
  • ECG – recording of the electricity generated by your heart – usually 12 different leads on the arms, legs and chest
  • Genetic – inherited conditions, ie run in families in blood relatives
  • Ischaemic heart disease – narrowing of the arteries, the "older people" heart disease
  • Syncope – a faint or collapse (losing consciousness)

Our thanks to Dr Ffion Davies, Consultant in Emergency Medicine (A&E), University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust.

Dr. Ffion Davies
Dr. Ffion Davies