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An Intro To Genetics And Heart Disease

by Dr. William Epperly of Forum Health Bloomingdale

When we go to the doctor for a regular check-up, most of the time, we’re asked if we have a family history of heart disease. We also are usually somewhat concerned if parents or siblings have had a stroke or heart attack at an early age. That’s because it is pretty well-known that genetics has something to do with heart disease. In fact, a recent report from the American Heart Association stated that about 40% of coronary artery disease (CAD) is related to genetics!


Knowing that a lot of CAD is related to genetics, you may wonder if there are specific genetic tests you can do on yourself to tell if you are at high risk for a heart attack or stroke. Well it turns out that in the last 15 years, scientists have found a significant number of them.


The gene most predictive of coronary disease is the gene variant 9p21. And because of that, some people call it the “heart attack gene”. Now as you might know, genes always come in pairs, one from mom and one from dad. If you have one copy of the 9p21 gene variant (called being heterozygous), your risk of heart disease is about 25% higher, and if you have 2 copies (called being homozygous), your risk is over 50% higher. Now it turns out that almost ¾ of all Caucasians and Asians have either 1 or 2 copies of this gene.


Another gene related to heart disease risk is called the Apo E gene. This gene affects a variety of certain types of fat molecules in your blood, making them more dangerous to you. Information about this gene will help you know what kind of diet you should eat to prevent heart disease, and it can guide you as to the best exercise routine for you to follow.


A third gene related to heart disease is called the KIF6 gene. This one is interesting because it can somewhat predict what particular statin drug a person is most likely to benefit from in the prevention of heart disease. In other words, when it comes to using cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, they won’t all work on every person the same partly because of your genetic makeup.


The last gene I’ll mention is called 4q25 or the AF gene (stands for Atrial Fibrillation). If you have this gene, you are 40-70% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation, which carries a significant risk of stroke. About 30% of the population is positive for this gene. You should be tested if you have a history suggestive of atrial fibrillation, a family history of A fib., before having a cardiac bypass operation, or if you have a personal history of a stroke of uncertain cause.


The first 3 of these genes should arguably be tested for everyone interested in heart attack prevention, along with several others. Learn more about Forum Health and schedule an appointment today!