Taiwanese host Alien Huang's sudden death at 36 shocked many not just because of his age, but it also brought back memories of another young actor Godfrey Gao, who died in his prime last year at the age of 35.
Alien's body was found in his home by his dad on the morning of Sept 16. From an autopsy performed, Alien died from cardiovascular complications due to an aortic dissection, which led to a blockage of blood vessels. The actor-host would have turned 37 in November.
Similarly, Godfrey's passing was also due to cardiovascular reasons. The actor was filming a sports-based reality TV show in China when he shouted that "I can't go on" before collapsing. His sudden death from cardiac arrest was said to be triggered by strenuous activity in addition to a lack of sleep because of his hectic work schedule.
Due to Alien's young age, some media outlets have dubbed the case 'a second Godfrey Gao', noting possible hidden cardiovascular diseases that contributed to their deaths.
In Taiwan, the cases have also cast a spotlight on causes of cardiovascular-related deaths in young and middle-aged adults. In an episode of Taiwanese medical TV show, Hello Doctor, a cardiologist shared six possible warning signs that may lead to such "sudden deaths" in young adults:
- Chest tightness, where there is the feeling 'as if a rock is placed on the chest'
- Moderate to severe heart palpitations
- Slow heartbeat. Most athletes may have a resting heart rate that's lower than the normal rate of 60 to 100 beats per minute. But if it drops below 50 or if you feel that your heartbeat is irregular, you should consult a doctor
- Fainting spells before regaining consciousness
- Unexplained fatigue
- Momentary loss of vision and numbness in limbs
What is aortic dissection?
Alien's cause of death, aortic dissection, occurs when blood surges through a tear in the main artery, causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to separate (dissect).
Depending on the location of the aortic dissection, if the patient doesn't receive surgery within the first 48 hours, the probability of death is 50 per cent, with the likelihood increasing by one per cent every hour.
According to Mayo Clinic, the condition is "relatively uncommon" and usually occurs in men who are in their 60s and 70s.
Some signs of an aortic dissection include:
- Sudden onset of chest or upper back pain, often described as a tearing or ripping sensation. The pain may radiate to the neck or down the back
- Sudden severe abdominal pain
- Loss of consciousness
- Shortness of breath
- Sudden difficulty speaking, loss of vision, weakness or paralysis of one side of your body, similar to those of a stroke
- Weak pulse in one arm or thigh compared to the other
- Leg pain or paralysis
Who would be more prone to getting aortic dissection? Studies show those who have high blood pressure or pre-existing heart conditions involving the arteries are more likely to be afflicted. Men are also twice as likely to get the condition.
Additionally, high-intensity weightlifting is a risk factor, due to increased blood pressure while performing the activity, or other strenuous resistance training.
Aortic dissection is often fatal, says Mayo Clinic, especially if the blood-filled channel tears through the outer wall. According to Taiwanese media, the coroner had told reporters in private that it would have been difficult to save Alien even if someone had been with him when it happened.
Veteran TV host Jacky Wu also echoed what he was told to the media, that "Alien didn't suffer too much before he left, probably (for) only three seconds. It was like shutting down a computer."