A nine-year-old boy whose heart stopped after eating a bite of a hot dog had a cardiac rhythm disorder, doctors confirm.
The case study, which was recently published in Pediatrics, found the Turkish boy had Brugada Syndrome (BS), a rare condition that causes fainting and sudden cardiac arrest.
According to USA Today, the unnamed nine-year-old fainted after taking one bite of a hot dog in school. While most thought he choked, it was later revealed his food caused his vagus nerve (which helps with heart and gastrointestinal function) to change his heartbeat.
“In some rare cases, sudden cardiac arrest can be seen depending on a possible vagal stimulus, such as eating a large bite of food,” doctors wrote in the journal. “He was diagnosed with BS after the ajmaline test and an implantable cardioverter defibrillator was implanted.”
What is it?
According to Pam Husband, president and executive director of the Canadian Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS) Foundation, BS is inherited and under certain circumstances, results in the heart going into an irregular rhythm.
“The other thing is that it’s only beginning to be understood,” she tells Global News. “The research is limited… many people don’t know they have the [syndrome] in their family.”
Symptoms include sudden death and fainting, particularly fainting with physical activity or emotional distress, she adds. “It’s rare, but the general population doesn’t associate itself with these kinds of health problems, we think we’ll get cancer and heart disease, but not conditions that are invisible and strike suddenly.”
The foundation notes the disease affects more men than women with an average age of onset at 40, although newborns and young children have also been diagnosed.
“Other symptoms include seizures, unexplained nighttime urination or strange breathing during sleep,” the foundation notes. “The arrhythmia, as well as sudden death, commonly occurs during sleep.”
Some patients don’t have symptoms at all, Husband adds, and often, fainting from BS can be confused with common fainting.
“It’s all about the adrenaline surge [and] the heart,” she says, adding healthy people get startled or go through an adrenaline rush and their heart rhythms are able to get stable again. This is not always the case for people with BS.
“If you have symptoms, go to a family doctor and request a cardiac assessment in a medical centre familiar with the disorder,” she says. “[For children], families need to be vigilant that fainting under these circumstances isn’t always a common thing.”
The numbers and treatment
According to the Stanford Center for Inherited Cardiovascular Disease, BS was first described in 1992 after a series of patients all experienced sudden deaths.
“It was later found that many of these patients had abnormal function of their sodium ion channels. Patients with Brugada Syndrome develop ventricular tachycardia, a condition where the heart beats too quickly to maintain normal blood flow,” the site adds.
The centre notes the number of patients with the disorder is hard to measure, but they estimate approximately four out of 1,000 people in the United States have BS. One 2007 report in The Canadian Journal of Cardiology found 35 patients had been diagnosed at the Quebec Heart Institute since 2001.
But the good news is, there are treatment options, SADS notes, including an implantable cardioverter defibrillator. Patients with a diagnosis but no symptoms may just have to watch their health overtime, especially if they have fevers.
“Most of these conditions are treatable and people who are treated will live a normal life,” Husband says. “We usually say early detection and early diagnosis is the key to saving a life.”