Cardiac genetic counseling: Put cardiac genetic counseling to work for you and your family

Knowing whether an abnormal heart condition runs in your family might one day save your life or that of a family member. Cardiac genetic counseling can benefit you and your family by providing you with powerful information.


Cardiac genetic counseling: A powerful tool for you and your family

An abnormal heart condition is something that falls into one of two broad categories:

Acquired condition: You develop the condition over time. A typical example is someone with coronary artery disease who was born healthy but makes a series of unhealthy lifestyle choices, such as smoking, not eating healthy foods, being overweight, consuming heavy amounts of alcoholic beverages and not being physically active.

Congenital condition: You are born with a heart condition. In some cases, these conditions are easily diagnosed in infancy, and surgery is performed during the first few days, weeks or months of life. Other conditions might trigger symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or a “racing” heart when you are a teenager, young parent or older adult. In some cases, you might have no symptoms at all.

Cardiac genetic counseling can be helpful if there is reason to suspect that your heart condition runs in your family. If it does, getting cardiac genetic testing and sharing the results with your children, siblings and parents can help them better manage their risk factors and live their best life.

What you need to know

Inherited heart conditions: The basics

The most common heart conditions that run in families are arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), cardiomyopathies (heart muscle disorders) and high cholesterol. Most people who have these conditions do not inherit them, but for those who do, these are the most common.

Arrhythmia: A heart arrhythmia a condition in which your heart beats too fast or too slow. Arrhythmias can be harmless or cause life-threatening symptoms. One of the more common arrhythmias is called atrial fibrillation (A-fib), which can cause fluttering, pounding or racing symptoms. About 1 in 50 people under age 65 have A-fib; about 1 in 10 people 65 or older have it.

Cardiomyopathy: A cardiomyopathy is a defect with your heart muscle; it makes your heart work harder than usual to pump blood through your body. Some people have no symptoms; others can have shortness of breath, tiredness, dizziness and fainting, or chest pain as the disease gets worse.

High cholesterol: Almost 2 in 5 adults in the United States have high cholesterol, which can put you at higher risk for heart disease or stroke. Because having high cholesterol has no symptoms, the only way to learn your cholesterol level is through a simple blood test.

Another abnormality that can be inherited is disease of the aorta — the largest artery in your body, and an essential pathway for carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart throughout your circulatory system.

Knowing whether you or your family members have any of the above conditions is important, because treatment is available to lower your risk for a major heart event or stroke.

Expert care

How cardiac genetic counseling can help

If you, your cardiologist or primary care doctor suspects that a heart condition might run in your family, they might refer you to a cardiac genetic counselor — an expert with special training in genetics and counseling. They can help you and your family members weigh the benefits and limitations of genetic testing. They also can help you and your family members understand any test findings from both a medical and emotional perspective.

Your first meeting

What happens at your first visit

Our highly experienced licensed cardiac genetics counselor is Kate Orland. During your first appointment, Kate will:

  • Discuss your medical and family history

  • Discuss the benefits and limitations of genetic testing

  • Explain how she can support you through the process of communicating your findings with family members — even the more challenging ones

Meet our team

Experts to help you


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