Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome

Also called SADS, Sudden Arrhythmia Dead Syndrome is the sudden death of an individual, primarily during sleep. This syndrome is quite rare and is observed in genetically distinct populations. The condition was initially observed in Hmong people – an ethnic group originating from the east and southeast Asia.

Causes of SADS

Till date, the real definite cause of SADS has not been found. Even the cause of death cannot be attributed to any event or factor even after extensive examination. However, research has shown that people who died of SADS did possess one common abnormality – a condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Here, the structure of the heart gets altered, where the heart muscles become unusually thick without any apparent cause, hindering it from pumping blood effectively.

Moreover, it is reported that the affected individuals experienced symptoms within the week leading to the terminal event – such as chest pain, shortness of breath and fainting. Scientists have even identified a gene – SCN5A, which if mutated, may affect the functioning of the heart. However, autopsies performed on the victims did not show any mutation of the gene.


If the cause of death cannot be attributed to a particular condition (such as a heart condition), then this is classified as Sudden Arrhythmic Death Syndrome (SADS).

Before arriving at this result, though, at post-mortem, pathologists will usually look for conditions characteristic of a disease. If obvious signs of death cannot be found, then the organ tissues are studied. Concurrently, tests are also done for medication or other drugs that may be present in the body. Even after all these tests, if no apparent cause is found, then the coroner will declare SADS as the cause of death.


SADS can be prevented with an ICD (Implantable cardioverter-defibrillator). Essentially, this device corrects most-life threatening arrhythmias (irregular pattern of heartbeats.)

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