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Do you know your family history of heart health? These genetic tests could protect your heart health

There are some tests that can measure heart risk factors that aren't a part of standard care
heart health
Posted at 10:08 PM, Mar 12, 2024

There are some tests that can measure heart risk factors that aren't a part of standard care. Knowing whether you could benefit from them, starts with assessing your family history of heart health.

You can do that by using free online tools. For example, Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center has a family health risk calculatorthat measures hereditary risk. You just enter your information, and it will suggest things like speaking with your doctor or a genetic counselor. There are a few tests professionals like that could suggest, depending on your results.

One is a blood test to check for high levels of lipoprotein(a), which is a form of bad cholesterol that increases the risk for heart attack and stroke. It's mostly inherited, but can also impact people with a personal history of heart disease.

"So it's kind of a special form of bad cholesterol, and it really is determined much more by genetics than lifestyle and is not even really modified by statin therapy, which is the most widely used medications that we know lower bad cholesterol," said Dr. Wesley Milks, a cardiologist with Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center.

There's only one FDA approved treatment for lowering Lp(a). It's similar to dialysis in that a machine removes the cholesterol from the blood. There are clinical trials underway testing less complicated methods.

Another test that doctors could recommend for people with genetic heart disease risk factors is a coronary calcium scan, which is a CT scan for your heart. This can detect calcium levels and help spot coronary artery disease at its earliest stages. This test is mostly for people over 40 years old. Coronary artery calcification is uncommon before then.

"So I would say starting at age 40, and particularly age 50 or greater. If people have either a family history, or perhaps if their doctor has tried to estimate their 10-year risk of cardiovascular disease using those kind of standard risk factors," said Dr. Milks.

If your doctor calculates your 10-year risk anywhere between 7.5% and 20%, a coronary calcium scan could benefit you.

It is important to note that both of the tests mentioned in this story are not generally covered by insurance. But they can be life-saving.

In our search, we found an Lp(a) test can cost anywhere between $40 and $600. A coronary calcium scan can cost between $100 and $400.