Heart disease. Can genetic counselling and testing help?
Genetic health counselling is soon going to be the future of proactive health.
The reason is quite simple. Genes are the building blocks of any living being and they control how the body performs it various functions. One such crucial functioning that genes control is that of the heart. From the strength of blood vessels to the way cells in the cardiovascular system communicate are all controlled by genes. Therefore, an individual’s risk for heart disease is influenced in many ways by genetics. The likelihood of developing heart disease can be affected by a genetic variation in a single gene or many genes. For example, a genetic mutation (variation) can change the way in which a protein functions and therefore the cholesterol is processed differently. Various kinds of heart disease can be passed down through generations of a family. A few of the heart diseases are caused by just one or few genetic changes, yet can have a big effect in causing the disease. These conditions are known as monogenic conditions. Some of these conditions include Long QT syndrome and hypertrophic cardiopmyopathy. The more common cases of heart disease are caused by genetic changes in many different genes, known as poygenic conditions.
Close to about 30% of heart diseases can be related to genetic factors.
When and why should you opt for genetic counselling?
With the current progress in medical science, it is still not possible to physically change or fix mutations to reduce your risk of heart disease. In such a situation, when a family member is diagnosed with heart disease other family members must be encouraged to undergo screening for risk factors and to identify the onset of any early stage of the disease. When the risk is identified, the individual can take precautionary measures and ensure that they lead a healthy lifestyle and monitor their heart condition on a regular basis. Genetic testing normally follows a genetic counselling session. Almost anyone can opt for genetic counselling and understand the process. However, if you have had anyone in your family, your parents, uncles, aunts or grandparents who have had a heart condition, it is highly advisable for you to undertake a genetic counselling session.
Based on the results of the counselling session, you might be suggested to go for a genetic screening test. During the counselling session, the genetic counsellor will take down your personal health history, family health history and lifestyle choices. Any kind of prior tests done, any medications being followed regularly or occurrence of heart ailments will be recorded. Based on the information provided during the counselling session, the genetic counsellor will assess you risk and let you know, if you have a higher susceptibility for a heart condition and recommend an appropriate genetic test. If you do have a higher risk, a genetic test can help you understand your risk with much more certainty. The genetic counsellor will conduct a post-test genetic counselling session. and help you understand your report and guide you on next steps. This could include advisory on whether you need to discuss your report with your Doctor.