In a properly functioning cardiovascular system, certain proteins operate ion channels, which control the flow of sodium, potassium, and calcium through the heart’s cells. These molecules are essential in the regulating the heart’s electrical activity. If this flow is disrupted, the heart’s electrical activity is also disrupted, leading to arrhythmia.
Medical experts have identified genetic mutations in some of these proteins, which can lead to Brugada Syndrome, a rare, inherited disorder of the heart’s electrical system that causes a heart arrhythmia (erratic heartbeat).
If left untreated, Brugada syndrome can lead to:
- Ventricular fibrillation: a rapid, uncoordinated heartbeat
- Sudden cardiac death: heart stoppage because of severe arrhythmia
Brugada syndrome often shows no warning signs. Your physician may first find it during an electrocardiogram (ECG). Unfortunately, the first sign may be a sudden cardiac arrest (heart stoppage because of severe arrhythmia) or death.
Other symptoms of Brugada syndrome include:
- Fainting (most common symptom)
- Seizure during rest or sleep
- Disturbed sleep, including nightmares
- Difficulty breathing, especially during rest or sleep
- Heart palpitations (fluttering or pounding in your chest)
Diagnosis and Treatment
MedStar Health cardiac experts usually find Brugada syndrome during an electrocardiogram (ECG). However, people with the syndrome may sometimes have normal ECGs. If your physician suspects Brugada syndrome, further tests to confirm a diagnosis include:
- Drug challenge using an intravenous sodium channel blocker to see whether the Brugada ECG pattern can be brought out
- Genetic testing to look for defective genes
- Diagnostic imaging, including Cardiovascular MRI and echocardiogram, to rule out other conditions
- Electrophysiologic (EP) study, a cardiac catheterization procedure, to evaluate susceptibility to arrhythmias
If you or a family member are diagnosed with Brugada syndrome, screening of other family members is very important. We offer genetic screening for heart conditions.
At MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, our cardiac team focuses on controlling heart arrhythmia and preventing sudden cardiac arrest. Currently, the only effective treatment for Brugada Syndrome is surgery to implant a defibrillator to correct dangerous heart arrhythmias with electric shocks.
Your physician may also recommend you avoid certain medications, as well as promptly treat any fevers.