It is also known as "Lai-Tai".
Sudden unexplained death syndrome was first noted in 1977 among Hmong refugees in the US. The disease was again noted in Singapore, when a retrospective survey of records showed that 230 otherwise healthy Thai men died suddenly of unexplained causes between 1982 and 1990: publication of this data provoked a diplomatic incident.
It has only been recently that the scientific world has begun to understand this syndrome. Victims of bangungot have not been found to have any organic heart diseases or structural heart problems.
However, cardiac activity during SUDS episodes indicates irregular heart rhythms and ventricular fibrillation. The victim survives this episode if the heart's rhythm goes back to normal. Older folks in the Philippines recommend trying wiggling the big toe while experiencing this to snap back.
In the Philippines, most cases of bangungot have been linked with acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis, whereas in Thailand and Laos, bangungot (or in their term, sudden adult death syndrome) is caused by the Brugada syndrome.
Survivors describe a feeling of intense fear and paralysis. There is a sensation of pressure in the chest, the presence of an alien being in the room and altered sensation.
It was noted very early on that the disease had the characteristics of a familial cardiac conduction defect (i.e., a problem with the electrical pathways of the heart). and one study has shown evidence for a long-QT syndrome in populations at risk. Thiamine deficiency is common in the risk population because of diet, and is also a cause of a prolonged QT-interval; but proof that inducible ventricular arrhythmia is the cause of this disease came only with the publication of the DEBUT trial in 2003.
Ongoing genetic studies by Spanish electrophysiologist Dr. Josep Brugada Terradellas show that SUDS results from mutations in the cardiac sodium channel gene. This means that it is a chromosomal problem, which is why it runs in families. Thus, doctors say that families who have kin that have suffered from or died of SUDS must see a heart specialist.
Every Filipino family knows someone who has been killed by the "bangungot." In Filipino folklore, bangungot is personified as a fat man who creeps into the bedroom of sleeping men and sits on their faces to suffocate them.
Families With 'Genes of Death' Can Be Identified and Helped at New Montefiore-Einstein Center for Cardiogenetics.
Nov 09, 2009; A mother spends sleepless nights after the unexplained overnight death of her previously healthy 22-month-old daughter. Will her...