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Should I be tested for hereditary heart disease?

Should I be tested for hereditary heart disease?

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among Americans. Most cases of heart disease are lifestyle-related, but there are also some types of hereditary heart disease.

If you know that you have a family history of heart disease, should you be tested for hereditary heart disease? That depends on the type of heart disease your family member has. Keep reading as our team of Touro experts shares some insight.

What to know about hereditary heart disease

Heart disease may sound like a single medical condition, but it encompasses many different diagnoses. Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease and can result in chest pain, heart attack, arrhythmia or heart failure.

There are multiple forms of hereditary heart disease, which is also called genetic or inherited heart disease. These conditions cause some type of change in DNA that can be passed down from a parent to a child.

Types of hereditary heart disease include:

  • Aortic syndromes such as Marfan syndrome
  • Arrhythmia syndromes such as long QT syndrome
  • Cardiomyopathies, including familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy
  • Familial amyloidosis
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia
  • Familial thoracic aortic aneurysms
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Pulmonary arterial hypertension

Along with these medical conditions, some types of cardiac tumors can also be hereditary.

Who should be tested and why

You’ve probably heard about genetic testing for breast cancer, for example, but this type of testing can be used for hereditary heart disease as well. If someone in your immediate family has been diagnosed with an inherited heart disease, talk with your primary care provider or a cardiologist about your risk.

Your provider can refer you to genetic counseling, where someone with specialty training in genetic testing can discuss whether you should be tested. Knowing whether you have hereditary heart disease can help guide your medical care now and in the future.

What do if you’re at a high risk

Along with heart diseases that are passed down genetically, having a family history of heart disease or conditions affiliated with heart disease can also increase your risk. There are two reasons for that—you may have some genetic predisposition to the condition and you are exposed to the same habits and environment as your family members.

If your father has high cholesterol, for example, you may be at a higher risk of developing high cholesterol. The same goes for coronary artery disease.

If you know you’re at a higher risk of developing heart health issues, your first step is to talk with your primary care provider about your family medical history and your own habits. Your provider can make recommendations about preventing disease, such as having regular screenings, taking certain medications or making healthier lifestyle choices.

When it comes to heart diseases you’re simply at a higher risk for—as opposed to those you inherit—you can make changes to lower your risk. Practice these heart healthy basics:

  • Exercise regularly. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week. That’s a little more than 20 minutes a day of an activity such as brisk walking or swimming.
  • Make healthy food choices. Fuel your body with smart food choices, such as antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean protein sources, and whole grains. Limit your intake of less-than-healthy additives, such as saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.
  • Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, find a cessation strategy that will help you quit. Your primary care provider can point you in the right direction, or you can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
  • Limit how much you drink. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Women should limit themselves to no more than one drink per day, while men have a two-drink recommended limit.
  • Manage any health issues you have. If you have any risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, work to manage those conditions through lifestyle changes and medication.

If you have a family history of heart disease, you can’t totally eliminate your risk of developing it, but these steps can help you mitigate your other risk factors.

Is it time for a heart checkup? Schedule an appointment with a heart expert at Touro.