These 4 heart conditions can be passed down through generations
Matters of the heart are often family matters. Several heart conditions are genetic, meaning they run in families and can be passed down through generations. If you know a certain heart condition runs in your family, it’s important to get screened early and often so you can begin receiving the treatment you need. In some cases, screening can begin in children as young as two years old.
Four heart conditions that can run in families:
Familial Hypercholesterolemia is a common inherited disorder that causes severely elevated cholesterol levels in families. About 1 in 250 people have FH. If someone in the family has been diagnosed with FH, it’s important for all family members to be screened as there is a 50 percent chance that a parent with FH will pass on the gene for the condition to their child. Children should be tested for FH after the age of two if a family member has been diagnosed. Treatment would begin at age 8 if they have been diagnosed.
“Familial Hypercholesterolemia can be screened with a lipid panel and may be suspected if the LDL Cholesterol is 190 or greater,” says Dr. Burton Herbstman, a board-certified cardiologist in lipidology affiliated with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Ill.
Those who have been diagnosed with premature heart disease – before age 55 in males and younger than 60 in females – could have FH as well as children whose LDL is 160 or greater. Dr. Herbstman says genetic testing can be performed to determine if someone has FH.
“It is very important to determine if a patient has Familial Hypercholesterolemia as this increases the risks of cardiovascular disease 20-fold,” says Dr. Herbstman.
Familial hypertriglyceridemia is a disorder that runs in families that causes elevated triglyceride levels.
“This condition may be secondary to a genetic disorder. Secondary conditions such as diabetes, obesity, hypothyroidism, renal dysfunction and various medications can also cause elevated triglycerides,” says Dr. Herbstman.
Dr. Herbstman says treatment for familial hypertriglyceridemia includes restricting fat in the diet and prescribing medications to correct and manage any underlying conditions.
Marfan syndrome is a genetic disorder affecting connective tissue, the cells that support and connect different structures in the body. Those with this condition often have long arms and legs and flexible joints. Marfan syndrome is also known to cause enlargements of the aorta, the main artery of the body, which can lead to an aortic aneurysm.
According to The Marfan Foundation, 1 in 5,000 people have the disorder. Roughly three of four diagnosed with Marfan syndrome have inherited it and those with the condition have a 50 percent chance of passing along the genetic mutation to a child.
“Since this is an inherited disorder, if you have a family history of Marfan syndrome, you should ask your doctor about any signs or symptoms you may experience,” says Dr. Neal Sawlani, a structural heart cardiologist at Advocate Lutheran General. “However, it is possible to be the first person in your family with Marfan syndrome, in which case a visit with your doctor can help you identify whether you have this condition.”
Heart rhythm disorders
Heart rhythm disorders, also known as arrhythmias, can cause the heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. Dr. Sawlani says science is still unsure of exactly which genetic sequences are responsible for heart rhythm disorders, but it is believed that genetics can play a role in certain arrhythmias.
“For example, atrial fibrillation is a common heart rhythm disorder which increases a patient’s risk for having a stroke, so it is an important condition that physicians try to identify and treat every day,” says Dr. Sawlani.
Although people sometimes dismiss arrhythmias as harmless, they can be quite serious and life-threatening. Dr. Sawlani says people aren’t typically screened for arrhythmias unless they experience symptoms. He says those experiencing a sensation of palpitations or a racing heart, dizziness or sweating should ask their doctor about being screened for a possible arrhythmia.
“Sometimes certain conditions can be related to an arrhythmia. For example, a stroke can be related to the arrhythmia atrial fibrillation. So, it common to be screened for atrial fibrillation if you have had a stroke,” says Dr. Sawlani.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.