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These Heart Conditions Might Be Lurking in Your Genes

Most of us try to have healthy hearts. Some of us run, others swim and many of us watch what we eat. All of this can help, but unfortunately you might have a genetic predisposition to certain heart conditions. The following are two common hereditary heart conditions — and what you can do if they run in your family:


According to Nichole Morman, MS, lead genetic counselor at OhioHealth, “Cardiomyopathy is a common disease that affects the heart muscle and its ability to pump blood throughout the body.” This condition can present in several different ways. This includes, but is not limited to, thickening, stiffening or enlarging of heart muscles.

As with many conditions, cardiomyopathy can be acquired as the result of another health issue or risk factor. Morman says risk factors for acquired cardiomyopathy include “obesity, high blood pressure, alcoholism, illicit drug use and certain cancer treatments.”

In cases where there is no clear cause for cardiomyopathy, it is likely caused by a specific gene. So should you be concerned about this hereditary form? It depends on whether or not one of your parents has the mutation. If one of your parents has the gene, Morman estimates that there is a 50 percent chance you have the mutation as well.

If cardiomyopathy runs in your family you should:

  • Discuss your family history with your physicians.
  • See a cardiologist for cardiac evaluation and screening.
  • Ask your relatives if they’ve had genetic counseling and testing for hereditary cardiomyopathy. If a hereditary cause has been identified, consider genetic counseling and testing yourself.



High Cholesterol

According to the CDC, 31 percent of adults in the United States have high cholesterol. Of this group, fewer than 1 in 3 have it under control. The truth hurts: High cholesterol is very common, and we aren’t doing a very good job of managing it.

Like cardiomyopathy, high cholesterol can be caused by lifestyle choices and additional risk factors. Morman says some of the most common risk factors are “poor diet, obesity, increased waist circumference, lack of physical activity, smoking and diabetes.” You can mitigate many of these risk factors through diet and exercise.

However, there are cases where high cholesterol is passed down via a gene mutation. Symptoms can even present in children. “This condition occurs in approximately 1 in 250 individuals and is most often passed from parent to child,” Morman says. As with cardiomyopathy, a parent with this mutation has about a 50 percent chance of passing it on to offspring.

While there are not a lot of symptoms, there are some you should look out for. Most notably, some people will get cholesterol deposits called xanthomas. These fatty growths will primarily appear around knuckles, elbows and knees. They can also cause a swollen and painful Achilles tendon.

If high cholesterol runs in your family, Morman suggests you:

  • Discuss your family history with your physician.
  • See your physician or a cardiologist for evaluation and lipid screening.
  • Begin taking steps to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease by modifying lifestyle risk factors, which may include taking medication prescribed by your doctor to help lower cholesterol levels.
  • Consider genetic counseling and testing.

Concerned that you may have one of these hereditary heart conditions? Contact a doctor at OhioHealth today.


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