Despite increased education and awareness about heart disease, it remains the leading cause of death among men and women and across most racial and ethnic groups. In fact, one in four Americans dies from heart disease each year. While there are a number of modifiable factors that can lead to heart disease—like diet, exercise, and alcohol and tobacco use— family history can play a serious role in your cardiovascular health, as well.
According to the National Institutes of Health, anyone with at least one parent with heart disease or a similar cardiac disorder are 60 to 75 percent more likely to experience the same cardiovascular issues later in life. Similarly, those who have a sibling with a cardiovascular disease are 40 percent more likely to develop a similar condition.
Knowing if your family has a history of heart disease is important, and for some cardiovascular diseases, genetic testing may help you to learn more about your own risks. Genetic testing offers people the opportunity to understand their risk factors for a variety of different cardiac issues, assess these risk factors and work with their clinicians to determine personalized options for preventive care.
When to Consider Genetic Testing
A person’s genes influence almost every aspect of their cardiovascular health — from the size and strength of their blood vessels to their unique cardiac rhythms. Family history is one of the most reliable indicators of a person’s risk for cardiac disorders.
Cardiovascular genetic testing may be a valuable option for anyone with a family history of:
- Congenital heart defects
- Unexplained heart attacks or cardiac deaths
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Known cardiovascular gene mutations
Genetic testing may also be considered if there is a family history of heart transplants, heart failure, aortic aneurysms, or early heart attacks (men under 55 years of age or women under 65 years of age).
If you’re not sure if your family has a history of these or other health issues, talk to your primary care provider about whether or not cardiovascular genetic testing—or any genetic testing—is right for you.
How Genetic Testing Works
Genetic counseling for cardiovascular health typically begins with an extensive review of your personal medical history and family history. The genetic counselor then analyzes this information to help determine which, if any, genetic tests may be appropriate. If you choose to have genetic testing, it is coordinated by the genetic counselor and may involve collecting a blood or saliva sample. These samples are taken by a blood draw or by collecting a small amount of saliva. Samples are then sent to a genetic testing laboratory for analysis.
The genetic counselor reviews your genetic test results with a cardiologist focused on cardio-genetics and discusses any potential cardiovascular risks at-length based on your results and/or personal and family history. This comprehensive risk assessment may help to identify an optimal course of preventive care or necessary treatment. Genetic evaluations not only help patients understand their own cardiovascular health, they also allow doctors to manage each individual patient’s cardiovascular care on a personal level.
At Main Line Health, our genetic counselor-cardiologist team utilizes genetic information to identify any prominent risk factors and determine the best approach to preventative and corrective care for each patient. Visit mainlinehealth.org to schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist or to learn more about cardiovascular genetic testing.
Still have questions about how a genetic test can help you manage your heart health risk? Join us for a Facebook Live event, featuring Cristina Nixon on Wednesday, February 5th, 2020.