Watch: What’s the Connection Between Heart Disease & Your Genes?

Watch: What’s the Connection Between Heart Disease & Your Genes?


Editor: Puneet Bhatia

Camera: Athar Rather

One night, an Indian friend based in London complained to his wife about some minor chest pain he had been having over the past couple of days. She called her doctor friend in India and asked what she should do. The first thing her doctor quizzed her on was her husband’s family history, which happened to be replete with cardiac disease. Pat came the doctor’s orders – “Take him to the hospital immediately”. They got to the hospital, and sure enough, my friend had suffered a heart attack.

Indians, all South Asians really, just happen to have poor genes when it comes to heart health. It’s embossed in our DNA.

What this means is that if your grand parents, great grand parents, anyone down your immediate familial tree, had some heart issues – it’s a red flag.

Role of Gene Testing

Taking into consideration our high cardiac disease rates and lack of funds, a Harvard study makes a very interesting and economical point.

Usually when a cardiac risk is identified, family members head out in droves to get tested for a gene mutation through a form of gene testing called ‘family testing’. This usually takes place once a family member has already died from heart disease.

What you could do instead is to identify the living family member with the most significant signs of the disease - an ‘index person’.

This allows for the identification of the gene which displays the most powerful effects of the disease. Once delineated, family members can opt for ‘predictive testing’ to see if they carry the gene mutation – which requires individuals to undertake far, far lower costs than broad tests with more varied outcomes.

All this is great in the West, where the genetic code of the population was completely mapped a decade ago and now the knowledge has exploded to examine many hereditary diseases. As a result, tools have been created to test and provide insight into risk of heart disease, what type of treatment will best mitigate the risks, and lifestyle measures that will combat your genetic legacy.

Where Do We Stand in India?

In India, we have started taking some strides in this direction - but here is the case with such tools - the more people employ them, the better they get at diagnosis. We need to mainstream such genetic testers and create a larger pool. This also needs a lot of education for general practitioners to refer to.

One such organization at the forefront of medical science in India is Strand Life Sciences, based out of Bangalore. Their genetic testing recently alerted an 11-year-old boy to his risk of heart arrhythmias or irregular heartbeats. A family counseling followed to prevent further risks of cardiac arrests.

So there you have it – your genes can determine how much of a threat heart disease poses to you, and more importantly, this is something you can and really should test for. At times, heart disease is accompanied by symptoms; you may feel faint or experience palpitations. At times it may not, which is exponentially more dangerous, and would likely result in a Sudden Cardiac Death (SCD). The only certainty you can acquire is through testing. If not by using new methods, choose any method you see fit. Take a day off work and get yourself tested.

(With over 20 years of clinical, investment and operational experience in the healthcare sector, Dr Amit Varma brings with him a domain expertise that links all facets of healthcare. He is a reputed physician with diverse healthcare management leadership roles and has headed numerous companies)

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