Family Health History Information


Ferre Institute




Am I at risk for heart disease?

Hereditary heart conditions

How will Genetic Counseling help me?


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Hereditary heart conditions

How will Genetic Counseling help me?


Information provided by the Cardiovascular Program of Ferre Institute, Inc -
a community based-community supported program.

Am I at risk?

Heart disease affects millions of Americans each year. Heart disease can involve high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arrhythmias, cardiomyopathies, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), blocked blood vessels, etc. There are many ways to assess risk, including lifestyle (diet, smoking history), personal health history (such as diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure/cholesterol), and family history. Family history is an important tool to assess a person's risk for heart disease. Individuals with:

1) multiple affected relatives or
2) family histories of heart disease at a young age

are considered “high risk” patients for heart disease. A recent study found that having first degree relatives (parent, child, or sibling) or second degree relatives (grandparents, aunts/uncles, nieces/nephews) with heart disease, at any age, significantly increases one's risk for cardiovascular disease. The more closely related the relative and the early the age of onset of heart disease, the greater the risk.

Because heart disease can run in families, we have learned that there are genetic factors that can make a person more susceptible to cardiovascular disease. Genes are sets of instructions, or “blueprints,” which tell the body how to function. Genes are made of DNA and found in little packages inside your cells called chromosomes. There are 46 chromosomes in every cell. Genes are inherited in pairs, one from each parent. Many genes play a role in the health of our cardiovascular system. Sometimes, variations or “spelling errors” in the DNA of the genes of the cardiovascular system can affect the way our heart and blood vessels function. Some genes alter the normal rhythm of the heart. Some cause problems with the heart muscle. Others cause high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Still others cause problems with the formation of the heart. Genetic testing to look for DNA “spelling errors” is available for some heart conditions. Visit our Hereditary Heart Conditions section to learn more about these conditions.

1 Scheuner MT, Whitworth WC, McGruder H, Yoon PW, Khoury MJ. Expanding the definition of a positive family history for early-onset coronary heart disease. Genetics in Medicine 2006;8(8)491-501

What can be done to prevent heart disease?

Learning your risk for heart disease can help you and your doctor assess the need for preventive measures. If a person is considered “high risk” for heart disease based on family history, or is known to carry a gene mutation for a hereditary disease of the heart, then patients will be able to discuss with their physicians opportunities for prevention and/or treatment. Some physicians will recommend more frequent heart evaluations when a genetic risk factor is known, while others may prescribe medications to reduce risk and/or treat current symptoms. Patients who are determined to be high risk will therefore receive more intensive follow-up care, and possibly preventative treatments, than the members of the general population.

Text for this site provided by Erin Houghton, MS, CGC
Genetic Counselor, Ferre Institute, Inc

For More Information

Congenital Heart Information Network

American Heart Association

National Society of Genetic Counselors

You can contact us.

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2008 Ferre Institute Inc. All rights reserved. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of Ferre Insitute's privacy policy. The information provided on this site is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between a patient/site visitor and his/her existing physician. Last Modified: January 28, 2010