Brugada syndrome is a rare, relatively recently discovered medical condition in which the heart’s electrical activity is impaired, resulting in an atypical heartbeat. The only established method for diagnosing this often-genetic condition is an electrocardiogram (ECG) test, but because it may present no symptoms, an individual with Brugada syndrome may never be tested for it. Other individuals with the condition may experience heart palpitations, fainting, or even potentially fatal cardiac arrest. While there is no known cure for Brugada syndrome, individuals considered to be at a high risk for serious symptoms may be able to manage the condition through the use of an implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD).
As Brugada syndrome was first recognized only in the late 20th century, the medical community’s understanding of the condition is not yet complete. It is known, however, that the syndrome is caused by an irregularity in the cells which create the electrical impulses that make the heart beat. Usually, a diagnosis of the condition can be made only after an ECG test has indicated a pattern of rhythmic irregularity known as a Brugada sign. As many of those with the syndrome experience no symptoms, however, their condition can potentially remain undiagnosed for years or even a lifetime. Due to the syndrome’s hereditary nature, it is recommended that children, parents, and siblings of diagnosed persons consult a physician about ECG testing.
While some individuals with Brugada syndrome are completely unaware of their condition, others experience symptoms of varying frequency and seriousness. Symptoms most common to the syndrome include heart palpitations, fainting, and cardiac arrest. While palpitations can be uncomfortable and fainting can be frightening, cardiac arrest, or stoppage of the heart, is without a doubt the most serious of these symptoms. If heart function is not immediately restored following an episode of cardiac arrest, death will quickly result.
There is no known cure for Brugada syndrome, and no medication has proven effective in controlling it. For individuals whose Brugada syndrome causes few or no complications, established treatment measures generally include just monitoring oneself for potential symptoms and maintaining an ongoing dialogue about the condition with one’s physician. Brugada-diagnosed individuals considered to be at a high risk for death — usually, those who have suffered previous episodes of cardiac arrest — may be able to effectively manage the condition by having an ICD implanted in the chest. This instrument automatically monitors the heart’s rhythm, generating electrical impulses whenever the heartbeat becomes irregular.