The role of genetic testing in unexplained sudden death

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Abstract

Most sudden deaths are because of a cardiac etiology and are termed sudden cardiac death (SCD). In younger individuals coronary artery disease is less prevalent and cardiac genetic disorders are more common. If sudden death is unexplained despite an appropriate autopsy and toxicologic assessment the term sudden arrhythmic death syndrome (SADS) may be used. This is an umbrella term and common underlying etiologies are primary arrhythmia syndromes with a familial basis such as Brugada syndrome, long QT syndrome, and subtle forms of cardiomyopathy. The first clinical presentation of these conditions is often SCD, which makes identification, screening, and risk stratification crucial to avert further deaths. This review will focus on genetic testing in the context of family screening. It will address the role of the “molecular autopsy” alongside current postmortem practices in the evaluation of SADS deaths. We describe the current data underlying genetic testing in these conditions, explore the potential for next-generation sequencing, and discuss the inherent diagnostic problems in determination of pathogenicity.

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