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Is There a "Heart Disease Gene"? The Truth About Hereditary Heart Conditions

Feb. 22, 2017 at midnight

"Do you have a family history of heart disease?"

This is a common question a doctor will ask during a routine medical exam—and the reason is that heart disease tends to be hereditary. It can impact both you and your children if Grandpa died of a heart attack or your parents both have high blood pressure.

Tracing your family tree

Genetic heart conditions or inherited cardiac conditions (ICC) are caused by one or more faulty genes. A child has a 50% chance of developing a heart condition at any point in his life if he has a parent that has such a gene or genes. Since an ICC can affect an individual at any age, a person might not exhibit any symptoms but still suffer from heart failure which, more often than not, leads to an untimely death. Sometimes surprisingly young people suffer heart attacks because of undiagnosed cardiac conditions.

It's in the DNA

Families often remain unaware they have ICC in their history because they've never had a member who was properly tested and diagnosed. Sudden deaths have often been blamed on other causes like a drowning or a car accident when the actual cause was a heart attack. There are also people who are carriers of the gene mutation but do not develop any conditions. So even if you can't identify someone in your family with a heart condition, it doesn't mean you're in the clear. Genetic testing is the only way to know for certain—although it can be quite expensive.

Looking for invisible signs

Fortunately, there are widely available and inexpensive tests that can detect heart disease before you show any symptoms. The most common tests involve checking your blood pressure, cholesterol, blood glucose, and C- reactive protein levels. Your doctor might also suggest diagnostic tests like electrocardiography (ECG), a cardiac stress test, and a calcium scoring CT scan.

For ICCs, the symptoms are also hereditary. If you have family members with risk factors like diabetes or high cholesterol, you are also likely to inherit these conditions. A person who frequently visits the family doctor, gets regular medical tests done, and is very aware of his current heart health will be able to get a diagnosis and preventive treatment long before it's too late.

Genetics aren't all to blame

Your genes are only one of the factors that increase your risk profile for heart disease. Studies suggest that it's still lifestyle choices that will impact your cardiovascular health the most. Those who started adopting healthy lifestyles as young adults will enjoy low-risk profiles as they age. Such a lifestyle includes exercising, a healthy diet, weight control, low alcohol intake, and not smoking.

Many people only focus on their health when they start developing illnesses. Experts, however, agree that the earlier you begin leading a healthy lifestyle, the longer and better your life will be.

Healthy behavior is also passed on

It's not just their parents' genes that children inherit, but also their healthy or unhealthy behavior. If you grew up in a household that preferred takeouts, had a fridge stocked with junk food, and didn't like participating in outdoor activities, you'd most likely be an adult who doesn't make healthy choices. This can influence your own kids, partner, and friends.

Invest in your own and your children's future by not only living a healthy lifestyle but also promoting good health in those who are important to you!


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