What genetic tests for heart disease can tell us today, from the Harvard Heart Letter

Researchers are hard at work identifying genes and gene variants to help predict, diagnose, and treat a wide range of disorders. The September issue of the Harvard Heart Letter explores how genetic testing is being applied today to heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular conditions. "Genetic testing is used for at least three purposes: to determine your risk for a common disease, such as heart attack; to know whether you have a gene variant that virtually assures you will develop a rare inherited disease; or to determine your response to, or side effects from, a particular drug," says Dr. Sekar Kathiresan, director of preventive cardiology at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. When it comes to assessing the risk of common heart issues, like heart attack, genetic testing isn't so useful. That's because the information gleaned from the tests—a percentage increase in risk—does not add much to factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, and lack of exercise. So the result of a genetic test is unlikely to influence a person's desire to alter unhealthy habits or change a doctor's treatment recommendations.
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