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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 three common hereditary heart conditions — and what you can do if they run in your family:

High Cholesterol

According to the CDC, more than 12% 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.

High cholesterol can be caused by lifestyle choices and additional risk factors. Alyssa Richards, MS, cardiovascular genetic counselor at OhioHealth, 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. If left untreated, high cholesterol increases the risk for heart disease and stroke.

However, there are cases where high cholesterol is passed down via a gene mutation. This condition is called familial hypercholesterolemia, or FH for short.

Symptoms can even present in children. “This condition occurs in approximately 1 in 250 individuals and is most often passed from parent to child,” Richards says. As with cardiomyopathy, a parent with this mutation has about a 50 percent chance of passing it on to offspring.

If you have high cholesterol or it runs in your family, Richards 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.


There are many types of heart disease, one of which is cardiomyopathy. “Cardiomyopathy is a common disease that affects the heart muscle and its ability to pump blood throughout the body,” says Richards. 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. Richards 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 mutation. So should you be concerned about this hereditary form? It depends on your specific diagnosis and your family history of heart disease.

If you have cardiomyopathy or it runs in your family you should:

  • Discuss your family history with your physicians.
  • See a cardiologist for cardiac evaluation and screening.
  • Consider genetic counseling and testing.

Abnormal Heart Rhythm

According to Richards, approximately 5% of Americans have an arrhythmia, or abnormal heart rhythm. The heart may beat too quickly, too slowly, or have an irregular pattern. The most common type of arrhythmia is atrial fibrillation. However, there are many less common types that can be inherited in families. One example is long QT syndrome, which affects about 1 in 2,000.

Most arrhythmias have similar symptoms. These many include chest pain, feeling like the heart is “fluttering,” dizziness, and fainting. Some people may even have a cardiac arrest, which is a sudden loss of heart function caused by an abnormal heart rhythm.

Arrhythmias can be very serious, but they are manageable. How do you know if your chest pain or fainting is caused by a genetic arrhythmia? The best thing would be to consult with your physician. If there is concern for a genetic arrhythmia, like long QT syndrome, think about meeting with a genetic counselor.

If you have an arrhythmia or one runs in your family, you should:

  • Discuss your family history with your physicians.
  • See an electrophysiologist for cardiac evaluation and screening.
  • 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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