If you suspect someone is having a cardiac arrest, loses consciousness and stops breathing, call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance. Start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) as soon as possible.
What is Brugada syndrome?
Brugada syndrome is a condition that can disrupt the rhythm of the heart. It can cause fainting or, in serious cases, a cardiac arrest.
If you have Brugada syndrome, which can be inherited, there are many ways to look after yourself.
What are the symptoms of Brugada syndrome?
Not all people with Brugada syndrome will experience noticeable symptoms.
People without symptoms may still show abnormalities on an electrocardiogram (ECG), a test that measures the heart’s electrical activity. Some people only discover they have Brugada syndrome when they first have an ECG in their 40s or 50s.
In those who experience symptoms, Brugada syndrome often emerges between ages 15 to 40. Usually, people notice a racing or irregular pulse, also known as palpitations, when they are resting. These palpitations can come and go.
The arrhythmia caused by Brugada syndrome makes the heart pump less efficiently, meaning less blood than usual is going to the brain. This can make someone feel dizzy and faint.
Very rarely, the heart can suddenly stop beating. This is known as a cardiac arrest and it is a medical emergency.
Brugada syndrome might be the cause of a fatal cardiac arrest in some people whose death could not be fully explained.
What causes Brugada syndrome?
The heartbeat is controlled by small electrical signals, which ensure blood is pumped through the heart effectively. In healthy people, most of the time the heart beats regularly.
Brugada syndrome disturbs this electrical rhythm, so the heart can beat either irregularly or regularly but very fast. This is known as an arrhythmia.
Brugada syndrome usually occurs when a faulty gene is passed on from a parent to their child. If you have Brugada syndrome, you have a 1 in 2 chance of passing the gene on to any of your children.
How is Brugada syndrome diagnosed?
It’s quite common for people with Brugada syndrome to discover they have the condition when they are being treated after a fainting spell or after being resuscitated from a cardiac arrest.
The diagnosis is confirmed by an ECG. Sometimes, it takes more than one ECG because the irregularities don't occur all the time.
If it's suspected that you have Brugada syndrome, you may be given a specific drug to see how you react while having the ECG. In this case, the ECG will most likely be done in a hospital. Otherwise, it can be done in your doctor’s rooms.
You might also be asked to have an electrophysiology study, which allows doctors to test how your heart responds to electrical stimuli, and which might try to reproduce the abnormal rhythm.
Some people discover they have Brugada syndrome after having a genetic test. Family members of a person with Brugada syndrome are often encouraged to be tested for the condition so that, if they have a faulty gene, they can see a cardiologist to manage their heart health.
However, genetic screening won’t find all cases. A negative screening result doesn't mean that you don't have Brugada syndrome. You can read more about genetic testing here.
How is Brugada syndrome treated?
Your cardiologist will discuss with you the best treatment for your particular situation.
If your condition is serious, you may need to have an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) fitted. This device can send electrical pulses to the heart to overcome irregular or stopped heartbeats.
Otherwise, your doctor may recommend drugs that help prevent arrhythmias.
Can Brugada syndrome be prevented?
If you have Brugada syndrome, it is important to avoid anything that can make your heart beat more irregularly and trigger an episode. These can include excessive alcohol or illegal drugs, or some medications.
A list of medications to avoid is at brugadadrugs.org, and you can carry this letter to your doctor, which explains what they are.
It’s also important to:
- treat any fever promptly, especially in children, since high temperature increases the risk of complications
- have regular check-ups with your cardiologist
- mention your condition to your doctors before any surgery and before taking new medications or supplements
It’s also a good idea to encourage your relatives to consider genetic testing. It may also be possible to do pre-natal testing if you wish.
When to seek help
If you have Brugada syndrome and you have fainted and recovered consciousness, seek emergency medical attention.
If another person has collapsed with a cardiac arrest:
- Ensure that neither you nor they are in danger then call triple zero (000) and ask for an ambulance.
- If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile, try calling 112. (This number is only for mobile phones.)
- Start CPR as soon as possible after calling for help. See here how to perform CPR.
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Last reviewed: June 2020