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Gilbert Gottfried died of a rare heart condition from a genetic disorder

The comedian had been dealing with the illness for years before his death at age 67.
/ Source: TODAY

Gilbert Gottfried died of an abnormal heart rhythm condition that was a complication from a type of muscular dystrophy, one of his longtime friends said.

When announcing the comedian’s death at the age of 67 on Tuesday, Gottfried’s family described it as “a long illness,” but the official cause of death was recurrent ventricular tachycardia due to myotonic dystrophy type 2, according to his publicist Glenn Schwartz.

Gottfried had been dealing with the issue for years: As the pandemic began in early 2020, he canceled a show in Butte, Montana, because his age and heart condition put him at high risk for COVID-19, so his doctors didn’t want him to fly, NBC Montana reported that March.

Here's what to know about the problems that affected his health:

What is ventricular tachycardia, Gilbert Gottfried's cause of death?

It’s a rapid heartbeat — more than 100 beats per minute — that starts in the lower chambers of the heart, according to the National Library of Medicine. Patients also experience irregular heartbeats.

The condition can become life-threatening if it lasts for more than a few seconds because it can affect blood flow to the rest of the body, Cedars-Sinai noted.

Ventricular tachycardia can develop in a healthy, normal heart, but it most often occurs when the cardiac muscle has been damaged by a heart attack or other heart conditions and the resulting scar tissue affects the organ’s electrical pathways, Johns Hopkins Medicine explained.

Symptoms include palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, chest pain and fainting.

This abnormal heartbeat can be treated with medication or an implantable cardiac defibrillator.

What is myotonic dystrophy, Gilbert Gottfried's long illness?

It’s the most common adult-onset form of muscular dystrophy — an inherited disorder involving progressive muscle loss and weakness, according to the Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center. Myotonic dystrophy has two forms, type 1 and type 2. The symptoms can overlap, but the latter type tends to be milder.

People with myotonic dystrophy type 2, the type Gottfried had, experience muscle weakness that mainly affects the neck, shoulders, elbows and hips. The heart may be impacted, too: Abnormalities of the electrical signals that control heartbeat can be one of the symptoms, the center noted.

Symptoms typically begin when patients are in their 20s or 30s but can go undiagnosed for a long time. “People can have symptoms for quite a while even before they notice it,” Dr. Elizabeth McNally, the director of Northwestern University's Center for Genetic Medicine, told NBC News.

“The increased risk for irregular heart rhythms can really be quite significant,” she added.

There’s no specific treatment to stop or slow the progression of myotonic dystrophy, so the focus is managing each symptom. Exercise can boost muscle strength, for example, while a defibrillator can help manage an abnormal heart beat.

Symptoms worsen as a person gets older, so some patients may eventually have difficulty taking care of themselves, McNally said. “The things I always notice first in patients is that they have trouble getting up out of chairs and difficulty going upstairs,” she noted.

Myotonic dystrophy of either type affects at least 1 in 8,000 people worldwide.