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You’ve got your mother’s smile and your father’s eyes — or maybe vice versa. It’s great to pay homage to our family traits and where we get our best qualities. But when it comes to inherited health conditions, we tend to get more serious about what runs in our families.
While lifestyle choices affect our chances of getting certain illnesses, some heart conditions can be passed down through our genes. Knowing your risk lets you stay ahead of the game before you experience symptoms. We’re here to explain three common heart conditions that can run in families, their symptoms and treatment options:
Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy
Familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a common inherited heart condition that can affect people of all ages. This condition can thicken part or all of the heart muscle. In extreme cases, it can even cause sudden death.
The thickening often happens in the interventricular septum –– the wall that separates the left and right ventricles (the two lower chambers of the heart). This can prevent proper blood flow from the heart, so it has to pump harder than it should.
This thickening can also give the left ventricle less room to hold blood, which can raise the pressure inside that chamber. When this happens, you may feel short of breath or experience abnormal heart rhythms.
Symptoms of familial hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can present differently for each family member who has it. Your father may experience chest pain, for example, but you may have mild palpitations. Some people don’t have any symptoms.
This difference in symptoms can be dangerous because they can cause you to delay seeking medical help if you don’t attribute it to a possible heart condition. The good news is that getting treatment early can keep it from progressing or causing complications. That’s why it’s important to get your heart checked if you have a family history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
Living a healthy life and managing your condition with your health care provider as your guide is the best way to treat it.
Here are the main treatment options for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy:
- Lifestyle changes, such as losing weight and eating a healthy diet.
- Medications to regulate heart function and rhythm, reduce swelling and prevent blood clots.
Surgical and nonsurgical procedures such as implanting devices to treat abnormal heart rhythms, surgery to remove part of the thickened heart muscle, ablation to treat arrhythmia or a heart transplant.
Familial Dilated Cardiomyopathy
Dilated cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle becomes too thin and weak.
This condition can affect both sides of the heart. As the muscle stretches, the affected chamber gets too big and blood pumps less effectively. This can lead to heart failure, which is when the heart can’t pump enough blood to keep up with your body’s needs.
- Irregular heartbeat
- Swelling of the legs and abdomen
Familial dilated cardiomyopathy needs to be treated to prevent heart failure and early death. Like with Familial Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy, treatment mostly includes managing symptoms, preventing the condition from worsening and protecting you from life-threatening symptoms.
Familial hypercholesterolemia is an inherited cause of coronary heart disease. If left untreated, you can have a stroke or suffer from a heart attack.
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance in every cell in your body. Your body needs some cholesterol, but too much can accumulate in your body, especially low-density lipoproteins (LDL) — the bad cholesterol. This narrows arteries, either partially or completely blocking blood flow.
If you have familial hypercholesterolemia, your LDL is very high (above 190 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL)).
If your high cholesterol is caused by genetics, symptoms can begin at a very young age. Some people have a heart attack as early as 20 years old.
- Bumps around the knuckles
- Swollen or painful Achilles tendons
- Yellowish areas around the eyes or a white arc near the colored part of the eye
If you have familial hypercholesterolemia, a healthy lifestyle alone probably won’t bring your LDL down. You’ll need to work with your provider to manage it, which may include taking medications.
Expert Care With Heart
If you or a loved one would benefit from our world-class cardiovascular care, reach out to our team for a consultation today. From pioneering new procedures to advancing care for complex conditions, our expertise revolves around keeping your heart healthy.