The human body is composed of between 20,000 and 25,000 different genes that make us into who we are today. Some of the genes we inherit determine the color of our hair, while others are responsible for the development of the heart. Unfortunately, sometimes a faulty gene can be present, leading to a life-threatening genetic heart condition.
A genetic heart condition, also known as inherited heart conditions or inherited cardiac conditions (ICC), are passed on through families and can affect people of any age.
While it is possible for an individual to be born with a spontaneously faulty gene, more commonly, a faulty gene is inherited from one’s parents. And the more alarming part is that the parent may have the same condition or be completely asymptomatic and unaware of the condition.
Are you at risk for heart disease? Take this quiz to find out.
Types of Genetic Heart Conditions
There are many types of genetic heart conditions. Common forms of heart disease, such as coronary artery disease and high cholesterol, can be inherited, but are more likely to run in certain families than others.
These more common forms of heart disease are usually not caused by one single faulty gene but may be related to multiple genes or different genes in different individuals. In addition to genetics, there are other risk factors that can cause these conditions as well.
Other forms of genetic heart conditions include:
- Arrhythmia disorders (Long QT syndrome, Brugada syndrome)
- Heart failure (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, dilated cardiomyopathy)
- Vascular disease (Marfan’s Syndrome, Ehlers Danos Syndrome)
Are You Watching The Warning Signs?
Unfortunately, sometimes there may be no symptoms or warning signs.
If a family member experiences an unexplained cardiac arrest at a young age, other family members should seek evaluation for an inherited cardiac condition.
Also, young individuals with heart failure symptoms such as shortness of breath and difficulty with exercise may need to be evaluated. Additionally, unexplained episodes of loss of consciousness should also be evaluated.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Genetic Heart Conditions
A genetic heart condition can be diagnosed with genetic testing or clinically. The purpose of genetic testing is to evaluate for a faulty gene through the testing of one’s blood. If a faulty gene is not present with blood testing, then it can be diagnosed based on a set of established criteria.
However, testing performed on individuals without a family history of a genetic heart disease would not benefit.
As for treatment options, it depends on the type and severity of the condition. For arrhythmia disorders, a doctor may recommend close observation, medications or implantation of cardiac defibrillators. Whereas, someone with heart failure and vascular disease may require medications or advanced treatment options.
Overall, as long as those living with a genetic heart disease practice a healthy lifestyle and exercise with a moderate degree of intensity, they can be expected to prolong their life and avoid sudden death.
About the author
Dr. Gregory Olsovsky is a cardiologist on the medical staff at Scott & White Medical Center – Temple. He specializes in Cardiovascular Disease and Clinical Cardiac Electrophysiology.