How do I know if I have an inherited heart problem?

Professor Gerry Carr-White, Consultant Cardiologist and Vice President of Cardiomyopathy UK talks through the most Googled questions about inherited cardiac conditions.

Genetics and heart health – your questions answered

Professor Gerry Carr-White is Consultant Cardiologist at the Cardiac Genetics Clinic, a specialist clinic at HCA Healthcare UK for the diagnosis, investigation and treatment of inherited heart problems. In his role as VP of Cardiomyopathy UK, a leading heart muscle charity, he is an advocate for supporting those who have genetic heart problems and helps raise awareness of cardiomyopathy.

Have I inherited a heart problem?

If you are experiencing symptoms such as palpitations, blackouts or chest pain, or, if a parent, sibling or child has recently been affected or diagnosed with a heart complaint, then it’s important that your GP or cardiologist refers you to a specialist clinic to undergo genetic testing to understand your risk. 

If it is established that you have an inherited heart condition, a treatment plan can be put in place and it is advised that close relatives also undergo testing as they are also at risk. 

What are the most common inherited heart conditions?

The most common inherited cardiac conditions are:

What is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy?

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is a genetic condition where the areas of the heart muscle become thickened and stiff, making it harder for the heart to contract and pump blood out to the body. Depending on where the thickening is, it can affect how blood flows out of the heart.

What tests are used to diagnose genetic heart problems?

At The Cardiac Genetics Clinic, located at London Bridge Hospital, we will first talk to a patient about their family and medical history, before asking them to come to the hospital and undertake an ECG and an ECHO test if clinically appropriate, to check the heart’s rhythm and the structure of the heart respectively. A 24-hour tape and exercise test may be undertaken and reviewed by the appropriate cardiac specialist. It's likely you will also be offered a genetic test to help determine the risk of an inherited condition. 

Your results will then be reviewed by a consultant cardiologist and consultant cardiac geneticist. You might simply require help with managing the symptoms, or we may suggest a suitable treatment option.

Should other members of my family be screened?

If you have been diagnosed with a genetic cardiac condition, first-degree relatives will have a 50% chance of having the same gene, so it’s important to arrange family screening. At our clinic, we have a team of genetic counsellors who can speak with family members and talk them through the process. 

Which specialists are involved at our Cardiac Genetics Clinic?

At the Cardiac Genetics Clinic, we've brought together a whole team of specialists who are on hand to see and treat patients, including:

  • Consultant cardiologists
  • Consultant cardiac geneticists
  • Cardiac nurses
  • Genetic counsellor support

At our clinic we ensure we have every aspect covered to provide the best level of care to every patient and as part of the HCA UK network, we can provide onwards referral to a wide range of specialists such as a respiratory physician or cardiac surgeon, should this be needed.