From picture of health to sudden cardiac death

Cardiovascular diseases claim almost nearly 18 million lives annually. Davide Piccini’s job is to improve solutions for cardio patients. Less than a year ago, the young father discovered that he himself was at risk of sudden cardiac death due to a congenital condition.

Meike Feder
Published on February 12, 2024

Cardiac anomalies can affect seemingly healthy individuals

<p>When he arrived at the hospital, he was given a thorough examination, but his clinical images gave no indication of his sudden syncope. Only when a young doctor looked at the 12-lead ECG that is routine in the ER and remembered a recent topic from their studies, were they able to confirm: The ECG indicated a pattern typical for <a href="Brugada%20syndrome">Brugada syndrome</a>, a disease that affects the electrophysiology of the heart. This is what had caused his syncope. He had to stay in the hospital to confirm the diagnosis through further tests.</p>

Brugada syndrome is a genetic disorder in which the electrical activity of the heart is abnormal due to channelopathy. It increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms and sudden cardiac death. Those affected may have episodes of syncope. The abnormal heart rhythms seen in those with Brugada syndrome often occur at rest. Brugada is triggered physiologically, usually at between 35 and 45 years old [2].

“Syncope is closely related to cardiac arrest, and it is a very strong predictor of future cardiac arrests,” explains electrophysiologist Professor Carlo Pappone, MD. The expert sees and treats patients with Brugada from all over the world every day. And Piccini’s story is one that is very familiar to him: “This is a very frequent story among young people, unaware of what they have and completely convinced that they are healthy. And this is the case for the five million people in the world who lose their lives due to sudden cardiac arrest every year.”

Keep relatives informed to prevent cardiac incidents

Portrait of Carlo Pappone, MD, expert in electrophysiology and in treating Brugada syndrome

<p>For cardiovascular conditions triggered by genetic predisposition, as well as other cardiovascular diseases, one thing is true: Something can be done. A healthy lifestyle is key. Regular physical activity, a balanced diet, and strategies for coping with stress are ways that people can avoid becoming cardiac patients. This is also why <a href="" target="_blank">Piccini is telling his story</a>–to make others aware of their heart health and take preventive measures.&nbsp;</p><p>He hopes they can be spared the fear and uncertainty that comes with a cardiac incident. “I thought so much about my wife and kids–and what could have happened at the train station. And about my relatives who had grown up without a father or uncle because of Brugada being in the family.” At the same time, he is hopeful for the future, and knows he is lucky to live in a time where there are solutions to prevent future events.</p>
<p>Patient pathways and solutions in all areas of cardiology are evolving. Pappone can look back at significant progress in his field of electrophysiology: “Over the last ten years, we’ve had very good outcomes after ablation in Brugada cases. We have a program for screening patients, for assessing their risk, and for following up after the ablation.”&nbsp;</p><p>Piccini concludes: “I really felt that if this had happened 20 years ago, it would have been completely different.” The incident showed him how much the work of Siemens Healthineers matters in supporting healthcare professionals. “I like the fact that, with the job I have, together with my colleagues, I can improve what’s out there for patients. For patients like me.”</p>

By Meike Feder

Meike Feder is an editor at Siemens Healthineers. She focuses on stories around patient care.