Heart Stopper: Long QT Syndrome

POSTED: Tuesday, November 10, 2009 - 8:14am

UPDATED: Thursday, June 3, 2010 - 10:57pm

A loud door bell, a ringing alarm clock, an irritating car horn... even a scary movie or a difficult test. The stuff of life for most of us, but the cause of death for others.

"I went into sudden cardiac arrest and had to be shocked back 14 time," Dana Cruthers said. Dana Cruthers has Long QT Syndrome -- a heart rhythm disorder that causes extremely fast, life threatening heartbeats. It's often triggered by simple, everyday events.

"It can lead to sudden death or cardiac arrest within minutes," Dr. Maribel Hernandez, a cardiologist, said. Dr. Hernandez says the disorder happens when the heart takes too long to recover between beats.

Medications including certain antibiotics, antidepressants, cholesterol lowering drugs and heart medications can cause Long QT Syndrome. It's also inherited.

"Anyone who has a family member who dies suddenly particularly in young age, children or any teenager in the family or a crib death. Any children who faint or have a seizure disorder should be evaluated," Dr. Hernandez said.

Some cardiologists believe many drownings are the actually the result of Long QT Syndrome. The disorder can be detected by a simple electro cardio gram or E-K-G. "We measure the interval between the Q and the T wave. If it's too long, then we know there is a problem," Dr. Hernandez said.

"All the sudden it just happened," Cruthers said. Dana isn't sure what triggered her heart to stop. After the attack, doctors implanted a defibrillator into her chest. "If you develop that life threatening fast rhythm, in seconds it detects the rhythm and shocks the heart back to normal," Dr. Hernandez said.

Dana also takes medications called beta blockers. She says she lives a normal life but is careful, "I still avoid roller coasters, scary movies ... anything that will give me an adrenaline rush." Genetic testing can spot the gene mutation. It's something newly-married Dana has already begun. "I think it is the responsible thing to do for when I have children. It could literally be life or death so it is something that has to be done," Cruthers said.