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Heart Disease and Family History

Posted 1/15/2016 by UHBlog

Many serious cardiac conditions are inherited or the result of genetic abnormalities. Talk to us about preventing heart disease.

Take a quick look at the death notices in today’s newspaper. Statistics suggest that about a quarter of those people died of heart disease. In fact, heart disease impacts men and women equally and is the most common cause of death among both genders.

Many cardiac problems occur from lifestyle choices, like smoking, poor diet or lack of exercise. Other conditions, however, are in your genes. These genetic abnormalities may cause problems with your heart’s muscle function – called cardiomyopathy – or electrical system, resulting in abnormal heart rhythms that lead to sudden death.

“We have known for a long time that family history is very important to cardiac health because it tells you what your genetic makeup is,” says cardiac electrophysiologist Judith Mackall, MD. “Ultimately we are what our genes tell us to be, so if you have a history of coronary disease in your family, you will want to do everything you can to modify your risk factors.”

Inherited conditions may have long, daunting names – like arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) or catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT) – but getting to the heart of the matter, they can be deadly.

Fortunately, cardiac and genetic testing is available to identify and treat people who may have inherited or developed conditions, such as:

  • A family history of heart problems
  • A risk of sudden cardiac death
  • Heart condition symptoms

If you're at higher risk, you may want to be evaluated by experts like those at the University Hospitals Center for Cardiovascular Genetics. The center specializes in evaluating, treating, diagnosing and providing genetic counseling for you and your family.

By detecting your genetic predisposition to a heart condition, other members of your family can be alerted and take appropriate measures to protect their own health.

“Of the risk factors for serious cardiac conditions, some are modifiable through lifestyle changes and some are not,” Dr. Mackall says. “Modifiable risk factors are things you can control, such as smoking, exercising, being overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

"Genetic risk factors are not modifiable," she says. "But if you are predisposed to have a high risk for a cardiac condition, you will want to do everything you can to decrease your likelihood of developing that disease.” For example, if you're at a high risk for having a malignant ventricular arrhythmia – a type of abnormal heart rhythm – you might be treated with medication or with an implanted defibrillator.

Judith Mackall, MD is a cardiac electrophysiologist in the University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute and immediate past president of the Cleveland chapter of the American Heart Association. You can request an appointment with Dr. Mackall or any other University Hospitals doctor online.

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