Healthy Young People Are Dying Suddenly and Unexpectedly From a Mysterious Syndrome


Dying is a natural part of life. Most of us, of course, expect to live well into old age. Especially those who take care of themselves, eat healthily and exercise regularly. This is what makes the phenomenon known as SADS – sudden adult death syndrome – so shocking. With this syndrome, otherwise healthy people less than 40 years old just die suddenly with no warning or preexisting conditions. This is what health experts want you to know.

Why Young, Healthy People Are Suddenly Dying

Some doctors are now advising people under the age of 40, no matter how healthy of a lifestyle they have, to go have their hearts checked. This is because of a phenomenon called Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, or SADS. Many people who have lost friends and loved ones to this shocking and devastating syndrome are now telling their stories in hopes that some future deaths can be avoided.

Calling it Sudden Adult Death Syndrome is actually a misnomer, however. In truth, it’s Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndrome. This is because the cause of death is a random cardiac event without any pretext or preexisting conditions. It often occurs in completely healthy, active, young people. One of those was 31-year-old Catherine Keane from Dublin, Ireland.

A Life Gone Without Warning

Catherine was living with her housemates in Dublin. Still being the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, she and her housemates were all working from home. One morning, Catherine didn’t come down for breakfast at her regular time. Because they were all working from home, her roommates didn’t think much of it at first.

Finally, however, at around 11:20 am, they sent her a text to ask if she was alright. When Catherine didn’t answer, they went to check on her in her room. It was there they found that she had passed away during the night. Catherine’s mother Margherita says that her daughter was very healthy and active. She had no health concerns whatsoever.

“She worked for an advertising company and was doing really well. She went to the gym and walked 10,000 steps every day,” said Margherita. “She used to ring me while out for a walk and just chat away for the duration. She was such great craic and quick witted and was really good for getting people together.”

As Young As Teenagers

Though it is colloquially known as Sudden Adult Death Syndrome, doctors have also seen the event happen in teenagers. In 2018, 16-year-old Jake Pickford suffered from the same syndrome. He was an active, healthy kid, who loved playing soccer. He, too, died overnight. His older sister Chloe found him when she went to wake him for breakfast.

Since then, his family has been working hard to raise awareness about the syndrome. They have also been raising money for Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY), a heart screening charity. The Pickford family is asking for better screening nationwide in the UK and also is working with CRY to screen all the students at Jake’s school.

“SADS can be caused by no apparent reason at all, but does seem to happen quite a lot in young athletic people. Jake had been perfectly fine, there had been no health issues with him at all. It was such a shocking thing to happen,” Gaye explained. “We have since found out that on average this happens to at least 12 young people every week aged between 14 and 35 in the UK. Some of these can be prevented through cardiac screening. This is why we feel it is so important to do the screening – it could prevent this from happening to another family.”

More On SADS – Sudden Adult Death Syndrome

Still, doctors are not 100% sure exactly what causes SADS to happen. It can be an underlying heart issue that has never been previously detected. There can, however, be no symptoms at all. This is why screening can help, but just because a screen doesn’t pick up on anything, doesn’t mean that SADS can’t still happen.

“It can happen because there may be an underlying heart issue that has never been detected. Equally though, there can be no symptoms whatsoever. In Jake’s case, his post-mortem showed no abnormalities whatsoever. It can happen completely out of the blue which is why they think it was SADS.” said Gaye.

Doctors are urging people to get screened to hopefully pick up on abnormalities that can cause SADS that you might not know you have. This is especially important if you know you have any family members – parents, siblings, or children – who have experienced SADS or have known heart conditions.

Though most SADS don’t have any prior warning symptoms, there are a couple of things you can watch out for. For example, if you experience fainting or seizures when the heart rate is elevated you should have your heart checked. This includes during physical activity, emotional agitation or excitement, and also when you are startled or scared.

It is also important to note that this is not a new phenomenon. It is not related to COVID or to the COVID vaccines – it has been happening for the last several decades.

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