Martha Jefferson Healthwise: Cardiac Counselor

May 21, 2014

If certain heart conditions run in your family, it may be time to talk to a cardiac genetic counselor. In this week's Martha Jefferson Healthwise report, we found out more about testing being offered at the hospital to find out your risk for structural cardiac issues.

Just like testing is becoming more popular to find genes that lead to breast cancer, the same is now being done with a testing kit to determine your risk for structural cardiac issues.

"We're interested in people in cardiac genetics that have structural issues with their heart. The wall muscles being too large, the valves not being formed correctly or your sort of your natural pacemaker being off rhythm and giving your heart abnormal rhythms," said Martha Thomas, Genetic Counselor, Martha Jefferson Hospital.

Structural cardiac issues are very different from coronary artery disease which includes things like heart attack, stroke and plaque build-up in the heart.

Thomas says those conditions are typically caused by things like unhealthy eating, not exercising, smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

So how do you know if you need to see a cardiac genetic counselor for testing?

"Any sudden deaths in the family especially when they're very young should trigger the question is there some underlying cardiac issue in our family or if you are then told by a doctor that you do have an arrhythmia or that something is structurally wrong with your heart, those are all good reasons to come and see me," said Thomas.

Before you make an appointment with a counselor, Thomas says you should visit a cardiologist.

"I do like to have labs that cardiologist are going to run, EKG's and measurements of the heart and what the rhythm of the heart looks like really can help guide me in making proper recommendations," said Thomas.

If testing results show that you do have genes that cause structural cardiac issues, there are a few things that can be done.

"There can be some medicines that are used. Things like beta blockers can help correct some of the problems with the heart. Also, just being aware of what's going on and knowing the warning signs so you know when to seek medical attention," said Thomas.

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