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Rambam Study Shows Familial Link Between Sudden Cardiac Death and Heart Conditions, Saving Dozens of Lives

Publication Date: 6/21/2020 10:00 AM

Approximately 30 children and young adults who were treated at Rambam in recent years for sudden cardiac arrest led to the saving of dozens of lives of their close family members. As Rambam's fifth annual "Swim from the Heart" event draws near, promoting awareness of congenital and genetic heart diseases is more important than ever: Remember – testing and examination prevent death!

Swimmers from the 2019 Swim From The Heart event. Photography: RHCC.Swimmers from the 2019 Swim From The Heart event. Photography: RHCC.

Sudden cardiac death (SCD) and sudden cardiac arrest (SCA – an aborted SCD), occur when the heart stops beating. A recent study conducted by the Inherited Arrhythmia Clinic at Rambam Health Care Campus has revealed that many family members of children who suffered a SCA/SCD were also found to have serious heart conditions. This conclusion was reached following the examination of 104 children and young adults who experienced SCA/SCD. In about 80% of these patients, a specific genetic or inherited heart illness was found to be the cause of cardiac arrest. This finding led to the examination of close relatives, and the conclusion that many family members who appeared to be completely healthy were, in fact, at significant risk of SCD.

The study particularly focused on the 29 participants under the age of 18 who had experienced SCA/SCD and 155 close family members. Nearly half of their relatives were diagnosed with a heart condition like that of the children and required medical follow-up and drug treatment to reduce the risk of life-threatening heart rhythm disorders, and nine family members (12%) required implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) to prevent such arrhythmias. In four of these cases, the family members suffered SCA, and the ICD saved their lives.

"It is important to emphasize that we are talking about individuals who were confident that they were in great health and had no known health issues. These people were examined only because a close family member—a child, sibling or cousin—experienced SCA/SCD, and as a result, their lives were saved and an additional family tragedy was avoided," explains Dr. Miry Blich, Director of the Inherited Arrhythmia Clinic at Rambam.

"If a person is diagnosed with the same disease as a family member who experienced SCA/SCD, there is a critical need to evaluate the severity of the problem and the future risk of SCD, and to find the appropriate preventative treatment,” she notes. “This is our biggest challenge and the area of expertise of our clinic, which is the only one of its kind in Northern Israel. When there are SCA/SCD incidents involving children or young adults, it is extremely important that all family members be examined at the clinic. Examination and testing can truly save lives," says Dr. Blich.

Sudden cardiac death is the principal cause of death in apparently healthy children, and in about 80% of those cases, the disease is inherited. In many instances, an episode of SCA/SCD may be the first indication of the disease, making prevention complicated. Therefore, examination of close family members is vital. In recent years, Rambam has been working to increase awareness of this issue. Rambam's mission is to not only to care for those at risk for SCD, but to find a cure and the most effective treatment in the battle against it.

On September 4, 2020, Rambam will host its Fifth Annual "Swim From The Heart" in a somewhat modified format due to existing coronavirus limitations and restrictions. Swim From The Heart is a joint initiative of Rambam, the City of Haifa, Shvoong, and a number of other organizations. The project is dedicated to increasing awareness and raising funds for groundbreaking research to predict and prevent SCD in children and young adults under the age of 35.

Hundreds of swimmers have already registered for this exciting event and are expected to swim from the Dado Beach at Haifa Bay in three heats: Strong Heart, Healthy Heart, and Swim for a Child's Heart.