MELBOURNE, AU – Amid a frightening recent surge of unexplained deaths among individuals under the age of 40, doctors are urging people to get heart checkups to make sure they aren’t at risk for what is known as “Sudden Adult Death Syndrome” (SADS).
SADS, which essentially serves as a blanket term pertaining to any young person – typically under the age of 40 – who passes away unexpectedly without an obvious cause of death, can occur to people of any lifestyle, regardless of if they are overweight or if they exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
The SADS Foundation, based in the United States, notes that cases of SADS occur among approximately 4,000 people every year, with typical warning signs consisting of a family history of SADS, fainting or having seizures while exercising or being startled or excited.
The Melbourne-based Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia – which experiences about 750 SADS cases annually in people under 50, normally from cardiac arrest – is currently developing the country’s first SADS registry, combining ambulance, hospital and forensics information. However, some causes of SADS-related death remain unclear in the country even after autopsies have been performed, experts say.
Cardiologist and researcher Dr. Elizabeth Paratz noted that, since SADS-related deaths occur so quickly upon onset, that it makes it difficult to determine the cause, or to get the patient the proper medical treatment they need to save their life in a timely manner.
“The majority of these SADS events, 90 per cent, occur outside the hospital – the person doesn’t make it – so it’s actually ambulance staff and forensics caring for the bulk of these patients,” she said. “I think even doctors underestimate it. We only see the 10 percent who survive and make it to hospital. We only see the tip of the iceberg ourselves.”
Death from SADS, Dr. Paratz said, can be an especially hard thing for a family to deal with, since sometimes the cause of death amounts to a “diagnosis of nothing,” preventing those left behind from obtaining closure.
But the best advice she could give, Dr. Paratz said, would be for anyone under the age of 40 – especially if they have any family history of SADS – to get a complete heart exam as soon as possible.
“If you yourself have had a first-degree relative – a parent, sibling, child – who’s had an unexplained death, it’s extremely recommended you see a cardiologist,’ she said.