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Charity warns of risk of sudden death due to faulty heart gene

Posted: 01/02/2017

The British Heart Foundation has estimated that 620,000 people in the UK have a faulty gene, which puts them at risk of sudden death or of developing coronary heart disease.

The charity has advised that the condition is more common than people realise and that the number of people with the faulty gene could be 100,000 higher than previous estimates due to under-diagnoses and undiscovered faulty genes.

Around 12 young people under 35 die each week from an undiagnosed inherited heart condition. Most of these people are seemingly fit and healthy and collapse suddenly with no explanation.

Many will recall the former England cricketer, James Taylor, who had to retire at the age of 26 after he was diagnosed with the serious heart condition arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy. He was warming up for the first test of a season when his heart beat rose to 265 bpm (the normal resting heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute). The British Heart Foundation’s website also contains other patient stories, raising awareness of undiagnosed heart disease and how research can improve families’ lives.

Research by the charity has helped discover many of the faulty genes that cause inherited heart conditions. One of these diseases is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is an inherited disease of the heart muscle. It is the most common cause of sudden cardiac death in young people, affecting 1 in 500 people. Currently the charity’s researchers are pioneering genetic testing for this condition so that patients can obtain the treatment they need as soon as possible and other family members can be tested too. A child of someone with an inherited heart condition can have a 50% chance of inheriting the disease themselves.

While many people with an inherited heart condition have no symptoms, some can develop early warning signs, including dizzy spells, blackouts and palpitations. It is advisable to speak to your GP if you experience any of these symptoms as screening and genetic testing can identify the cause of the problems. Earlier diagnosis of an inherited heart condition, monitoring and treatment can reduce the risk of developing coronary heart disease or sudden cardiac arrest.

The British Heart Foundation has produced a new, hard hitting, television advert which aims to show people the devastation that heart disease can cause and raise awareness of the condition. It also addresses the fact that many people tend to think of heart disease as a male problem, although there are just as many women living with heart disease in the UK as men.

Camilla Wonnacott, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, said: “The research that is being carried out by the British Heart Foundation is making  young people in particular recognise the dangers of heart disease. It is hoped that by raising awareness and increasing genetic testing and screening, more people will be able to receive appropriate monitoring and treatment before it is too late.”

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