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If You Have This Gene, Be Worried About Heart Disease

What to know about heart disease and genetics. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The site states, "One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease. About 659,000 people in the United States die from heart disease each year—that's 1 in every 4 deaths. Heart disease costs the United States about $363 billion each year from 2016 to 2017. This includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death." While poor lifestyle choices such as an unhealthy diet and lack of exercise greatly increase the risk of heart disease, so do genetics. Eat This, Not That! Health spoke with Dr. Tomi Mitchell, a Board-Certified Family Physician with Holistic Wellness Strategies who explained how genetics is associated with heart disease and what to do about it. "Several types of heart diseases can be passed down from one generation to the next. Knowing about your risk ahead of time can allow you to prevent or treat the disease before it causes symptoms or becomes dangerous," she advises. She adds, "Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Though genetics can play a role in your risk for developing the condition, there are several lifestyle changes you can make to help lower your chances of developing heart disease." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

The PON1 Gene and Heart Disease

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Dr. Mitchell asks, "Have you ever wondered why some people seem to be more susceptible to disease than others? It turns out that genetics may play a role. For example, researchers have identified a gene linked to an increased risk of heart disease. The gene, known as PON1, is involved in cholesterol metabolism. People with a particular variation of this gene are more likely to develop high levels of LDL cholesterol, leading to heart disease. What's more, this gene variant is also associated with an increased risk of cancer. So if you have this gene, it's essential to be extra vigilant about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and getting regular checkups. Luckily, there are ways to offset the risks posed by PON1. Even if you have the gene variant, you can lower your LDL cholesterol levels by regularly eating a healthy diet. So don't let genetics get the best of you. Take charge of your health today!"

2

Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

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Dr. Mitchell explains, "Familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (FHC) is a concern for heart disease because it is a genetic disorder. FHC is an autosomal dominant gene, which means that if one parent has the gene, there is a 50% chance their child will inherit the gene. The disorder causes the heart muscle to thicken, making it harder for the heart to pump blood and leading to congestive heart failure. Many symptoms are associated with FHC, such as chest pain, irregular heartbeat, fainting, and shortness of breath. If you have any of these symptoms, it is essential to see a doctor to determine if you have FHC. There is no cure for FHC, but treatments can help improve your symptoms and quality of life."

3

Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy

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According to Dr. Mitchell, "Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy (FDCM) is a genetic heart condition passed down in families. It is a concern for heart disease because it can weaken the heart muscle and lead to heart failure. There are many different causes of FDCM, but it is often caused by mutations in genes that are important for the heart's normal function. In some cases, the cause of FDCM is unknown. People with FDCM often have no symptoms until the condition has progressed and the heart is damaged. At this point, Symptoms may include shortness of breath, fatigue, and swelling in the legs and feet. FDCM can be diagnosed with a physical exam, medical history, family history, and tests like an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram. There is no cure for FDCM, but treatment can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the condition. Treatment options include lifestyle changes, medication, and surgery."

4

Familial Hypercholesterolemia

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"Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) is a genetic condition that causes high cholesterol levels," says Dr. Mitchell. "People with FH have a higher risk of developing heart disease early. The condition is passed down from parents to children. If one parent has FH, there is a 50% chance that their child will also have the disease. FH is a concern for heart disease because high cholesterol levels can lead to plaque buildup in the arteries. This can restrict blood flow and oxygen to the heart and eventually lead to a heart attack or stroke. People with FH often need to be monitored closely by their doctor and take medication to manage their cholesterol levels. Despite the increased risk for heart disease, people with FH can still live long and healthy lives if they manage their condition. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and taking medications as prescribed. By taking these measures, people with FH can greatly reduce their risk for heart disease."

5

Coronary Artery Disease

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Dr. Mitchell shares, "Coronary artery disease is the most common type of inherited heart disease. It occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle become narrow or blocked. This can lead to chest pain, shortness of breath, and an increased risk of a heart attack."

6

Exercise Regularly

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Dr. Mitchell says, "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. However, there are steps that everyone can take to decrease their risk of developing this disease. One of the most important is exercising regularly. Exercise has many benefits for the heart. It helps to reduce risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity. Exercise also helps to increase HDL (good) cholesterol levels while reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol. Furthermore, it helps to improve blood circulation and decrease stress levels. Together, all of these factors can significantly reduce someone's risk of developing heart disease.So, if you're looking for ways to protect your heart, make sure to add exercise to your routine. Just a few minutes of exercise each day can make a big difference in your long-term health."

7

Eating a Healthy Diet

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"Eating a healthy diet has been proven to decrease a person's risk of heart disease," says Dr. Mitchell. "Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Many factors contribute to heart disease, but diet plays a significant role. A high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar diet can contribute to the development of heart disease. Eating a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help decrease a person's risk of heart disease. Following a healthy diet can also help to lower cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and inflammation. All of these things are important in preventing heart disease. While there is no guarantee that eating a healthy diet will prevent heart disease, it is certainly worth the effort to save your life."

8

Quit Smoking

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"It's no secret that smoking is bad for your health," Dr. Mitchell emphasizes. "In addition to causing lung cancer and other respiratory problems, smoking is also a significant risk factor for heart disease. The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage the lining of the arteries, making it difficult for blood to flow freely. This can lead to plaque buildup and eventually cause a heart attack or stroke. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart health. Within just a few weeks of quitting, your risk of heart disease begins to decrease. And, over time, your risk will continue to go down as your body repairs the damage caused by smoking. Eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise are crucial for maintaining a healthy heart. So, if you're looking to reduce your risk of heart disease, quitting smoking is a great place to start."

9

Control Your Blood Sugar

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Dr. Mitchell shares, "Too much sugar in your blood can damage your blood vessels and contribute to the development of heart disease. When blood sugar levels are high, it causes damage to the blood vessels and nerves. This damage makes it difficult for the blood vessels to function correctly, leading to a heart attack or stroke. Controlling and reducing your blood sugar can help prevent this damage and decrease your risk of heart disease. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing heart disease, so they need to control their blood sugar levels. By making healthy lifestyle choices and taking medication as prescribed, you can help keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range and reduce your risk of heart disease."

10

Get Regular Check-Ups

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Dr. Mitchell reminds us, "Checking in with your doctor regularly can help decrease your risk of developing heart disease. One of the blood tests that your doctor will likely perform is a fasting blood sugar test. This test measures the amount of sugar in your blood after fasting for at least eight hours. Having too much sugar in your blood can damage your arteries and lead to heart disease. In addition, your doctor can also check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. High blood pressure is another significant risk factor for heart disease. By catching these risk factors early, you and your doctor can work together to develop a plan to keep you healthy and decrease your risk of heart disease." And to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more