Idiopathic ventricular fibrillation: the ongoing quest for diagnostic refinement

Giulio Conte, John R Giudicessi, Michael J Ackerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


Prior to the recognition of distinct clinical entities, such as Brugada syndrome, catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia, and long QT syndrome, all sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) survivors with ventricular fibrillation (VF) and apparently structurally normal hearts were labelled as idiopathic ventricular fibrillation (IVF). Over the last three decades, the definition of IVF has changed substantially, mostly as result of the identification of the spectrum of SCA-predisposing genetic heart diseases (GHDs), and the molecular evidence, by post-mortem genetic analysis (aka, the molecular autopsy), of cardiac channelopathies as the pathogenic basis for up to 35% of unexplained cases of sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the young. The evolution of the definition of IVF over time has led to a progressively greater awareness of the need for an extensive diagnostic assessment in unexplained SCA survivors. Nevertheless, GHDs are still underdiagnosed among SCA survivors, due to the underuse of pharmacological challenges (i.e. sodium channel blocker test), misrecognition of electrocardiogram (ECG) abnormalities/patterns (i.e. early repolarization pattern or exercise-induced ventricular bigeminy) or errors in the measurement of ECG parameters (e.g. the heart-rate corrected QT interval). In this review, we discuss the epidemiology, diagnostic approaches, and the controversies related to role of the genetic background in unexplained SCA survivors with a default diagnosis of IVF.

Bibliographical note

Published on behalf of the European Society of Cardiology. All rights reserved. © The Author(s) 2020. For permissions, please email:


  • Brugada Syndrome
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac/epidemiology
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Tachycardia, Ventricular
  • Ventricular Fibrillation/diagnosis


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