Cedars-Sinai Blog

Who Should Seek Genetic Testing for Heart Disease?

genetic testing, heart disease, cardiac arrest

As advances in medicine leap forward, more and more people are interested in genetic testing for many different diseases, including heart disease.

Heart disease is the #1 cause of death worldwide, and it tends to run in families. While genetic testing can be useful for some conditions, the most common ones—like "hard arteries"—are influenced by too many genes and too many factors for testing to be useful.

Daria Ma, a cardiac genetic counselor with the Cardiogenetics Program at the Cedars-Sinai Smidt Heart Institute, breaks down who should consider genetic testing for heart disease:

Someone diagnosed with certain heart diseases or born with a heart defect

If you're already seeing a cardiologist for heart problems, genetic testing might be ordered to find out more about your condition or rule out the causes of the disease.

Some common reasons people are tested are: unexplained cardiac arrest, fainting or seizure; enlarged heart; heart failure in people younger than 60; and needing a pacemaker at age 50 or younger. The testing can help refine your diagnosis and guide your treatment.

Parents, siblings, or children of someone diagnosed and tested for heart disease

If a close relative has tested positive for a heart condition on a genetic test, you are also a candidate for testing. The results can be useful in managing your risk, and helping you and your doctor make decisions about how to best take care of your heart.

Parents, siblings, or children of someone who died suddenly of cardiac arrest

When a close family member dies suddenly and unexpectedly—especially when younger than 40—and the cause is unknown or cardiac arrest is suspected, testing might be a good idea.

It's possible to do a genetic test on the person who died to isolate the cause. A sudden death is, for many people, the first sign of a serious heart problem. Close family members should consider genetic testing to learn more about their own risk of heart disease.

"Even if you test positive for having a higher risk, it doesn't mean you will necessarily have the same symptoms as your family member," Daria says. "There are other factors that ultimately determine whether we are affected, but testing can help your doctor monitor you earlier, before you have symptoms, and be proactive about managing your health. In some cases, this can save lives."

Daria says genetic testing may be considered for patients who have any of these symptoms:

  • Unexplained cardiac arrest or sudden deaths in the family that might have been caused by an undiagnosed heart disease
  • Unexplained fainting, or fainting with exercise or emotional stress
  • Unexplained seizures, or seizures with normal neurological evaluation
  • ICD/pacemaker at under 50 years of age
  • Heart failure at less than 60 years of age
  • Enlarged heart
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Early heart attack, coronary artery disease or stroke (men under 55, women under 65)
  • Enlarged aorta or aortic aneurysm in the chest at less than 55 years of age
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the family
  • Untreated very high cholesterol level
  • Heart defect present since birth