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Health & Wellness

Vital Signs: Genetic Testing For Family Ties Of The Heart


Knowing your family history can alert a doctor to potential problems like heart disease, for instance. But getting that information sometimes requires an extra step: genetic testing. In this week’s Vital Signs, Sam Baker talks with Sheryl Walker, a genetic counselor with Baylor Health Care’s Inherited Cardiovascular Disease Clinic.

Baylor Health Care says heart issues and symptoms are very common in families and most do not have an inherited cardiac disorder – much of what is seen in the general population is acquired (environment, lifestyle, medication, etc) and not genetic (inherited).

Here are some ‘red flags’ for patients and their cardiologists to be aware of when interpreting a family history:

  • Sudden cardiac death (especially in 20s, 30s, 40s) or sudden cardiac arrest (or sudden unexplained death at a young age)
  • Earlier age of onset than expected for a disease
  • Disease occurring in the absence of known risk factors
  • Ethnic predisposition to certain genetic disorders (Ex: Dilated cardiomyopathy is more common in African American individuals)
  • Family history of aortic root dilation/dissection/aneurysm (particularly with hyper-extensibility/hypermobile joints, soft & stretchy skin)
  • Personal and/or family history of abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, unexplained seizures or fainting (syncope)
  • Family history with multiple affected family members

For more information on genetic testing:

Genetic Testing for Inherited Heart Disease

Gene testing for heart diseases now available