Cairns Hospital has started a genetic testing clinic for patients with inherited heart conditions, to see if they or anyone else in their family is susceptible to sudden cardiac death or heart failure.
The hospital has become the only public health facility north of Brisbane to offer the new service, which is available to patients and their family members who have been diagnosed or suspected with an inherited heart condition.
Each year, 1 in 4 Australians die from some form of cardiovascular (heart) disease; it is estimated that up to 200 young Australians (those aged less than 35 years) will die suddenly each year from cardiovascular disease.
Direct (child/brother/sister/parent) relatives of people with an inherited heart disease have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the same genetic heart condition.
Cairns Hospital cardiac electrophysiologist, Dr Kevin Ng, said a person’s genetic history could influence their risk of heart disease in many ways.
“Our genes control every aspect of the body’s cardiovascular system, from the strength of the blood vessels to the way cells in the heart communicate with each other,” he said.
“A genetic variation in a single gene can affect the likelihood of developing heart disease.”He said genetic screening searched for the gene variant that caused certain conditions, such as arrhythmias, congenital heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and high blood cholesterol.
“We can bring the whole family in for testing,” he said.
“For example, if you have been diagnosed with the heart rhythm condition Long QT syndrome, it doesn’t mean we will see just you: we can see your family members as well, to make sure we’re screening them to find if there’s any early warning signs or any changes that could potentially lead to some problems for your family down the track as well.
“If we find or identify anyone at risk of developing these conditions, then hopefully we have caught it really early, so we can prevent serious outcomes such as sudden cardiac death or early heart failure in young people, from occurring.”
Clinical nurse co-ordinator of cardiology genomics, Natalia Morris, said since the new service was introduced in February, there had been dozens of patients who had benefited from it.
“Our catchment is from Mackay all the way up to Saibai Island – a huge area,” she said. “Since we started the service, it’s been pretty clear that we have needed to increase the service pretty dramatically to keep up with the demand.
“We have doubled the number of clinics that we have been offering, to keep up with the volumes of families coming through.”