Knowing Your Family History Can Save Your Life

There is no single “heart disease” gene

There’s so much talk about genes and disease, that you might be forgiven for thinking that there are a host of effective gene-based therapies in the pipeline. The truth is, the relationship between genes and disease is not at all straightforward – especially heart disease.

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For instance, there is no single “heart disease” gene. We do know that heart disease runs in families. Not only coronary heart diseases, but less common cardiac ailments, like Marfan syndrome, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and sudden cardiac death. We can see this by looking at family histories.

In fact, it is in these rare diseases where the genetic factor is most pronounced. Marfan syndrome, hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy, and certain unusual arrhythmia syndromes are all associated with single genetic mutations. Families of people who have these conditions should consider genetic screening from a reliable healthcare provider. If you know you are at risk, you can seek preventive treatment, and address controllable risk factors relating to the disease.

On the other hand, very common conditions like coronary heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure, are affected by the complex interplay of many factors – no single genetic mutation stands out. But common sense should play a role in your approach to these conditions. If you have a close relative who’s had a heart attack, or died of a heart condition, you should make an appointment with preventive cardiologist now. You don’t want to be next in line for this unfortunate inheritance.

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One promising use of genetic testing in the doctor’s office is helping to determine how patient will respond to certain medicines. For instance, different people metabolize the drug clopidogrel (a blood thinner) at different speeds. There is a gene copy that is associated with clopidogrel response and knowing whether or not a patient has it could help guide a doctor’s prescription of the drug.

The future hasn’t quite yet arrived when it comes to genes and most heart disease. But there’s no question that someday, your cardiologist will be able to look at your genetic profile, and more accurately and effectively prescribe treatments for precisely what ails you. This is what is known as personalized medicine, and it will eventually make its way to the heart.

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