A genetic heart condition
Brugada syndrome is a rare but serious heart disorder. It is caused by a genetic abnormality that disturbs the flow of sodium and potassium ions into your heart’s cells.
This causes disruption to the electrical impulses that cause your heart muscle to contract and pump blood and can lead to a dangerously fast heartbeat (arrhythmia), which can be life-threatening.
What are the symptoms of Brugada syndrome?
Often, people with Brugada syndrome don’t have any symptoms and don’t realise they have it. However, some symptoms are brought on by fever, drinking lots of alcohol or dehydration. Symptoms typically first appear at around 30-40 years of age, but they can occur at any age. They are more common in men than in women or children. Symptoms may include:
- Light-headedness or dizzy spells
- Fits (seizures)
- Although it is rare, some people’s first symptom is cardiac arrest. If someone you are with falls unconscious and stops breathing, call 999 and start CPR until help arrives.
How is Brugada syndrome diagnosed?
- The main test for Brugada syndrome is an ajmaline test which uses a heart monitor and electrocardiogram (ECG). Ajmaline is a sodium channel blocker and therefore can be used to identify the characteristic ECG pattern changes associated with Brugada syndrome. During the test, the consultant will inject the ajmaline through a vein in your arm and record your ECG level every three minutes. In a patient with normal cardiac cells, ajmaline has little or no effect on the ECG. Additionally, blood tests may be carried out to check for the gene related to Brugada syndrome. If you do have Brugada syndrome it is advised that your immediate family are also tested as this is a genetic condition.
How is Brugada syndrome treated?
While there is no cure for this condition, there are things that you can do to reduce your risk of experiencing serious problems. Primarily you will be advised to avoid triggers that induce a fast heartbeat, including;
- A high temperature (fever) – if you develop a fever of 38C or above, take painkillers such as paracetamol to bring it down
- Drinking too much alcohol – avoid drinking lots of alcohol in a short space of time.
- Dehydration - get medical advice if you have diarrhoea or vomiting that doesn’t go away, as you may lose a lot of fluid and may need rehydration drinks.
- Certain medicines – make sure any health care professional you see knows you have Brugada syndrome, and avoid medicines that can trigger the condition unless they are recommended by a Doctor.
- If there is a high risk you could develop a dangerously fast heartbeat, your consultant may recommend having an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) fitted. This is a small device which is placed in the chest, similar to a pacemaker. If it senses your heart is beating at a dangerous speed, it sends out an electric shock to help return it to normal.