Is heart disease inherited?

There are many different diseases that involve the heart. Some of these are more likely to run in families than others. Inherited heart diseases are those that run in families and are caused by a change (or mutation) in one gene or in a number of genes. There are many categories of inherited heart diseases including:

  • Cardiomyopathy. This is a disease in which the heart muscle is not formed properly or not working correctly. Specific types of cardiomyopathy include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), and arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia (ARVD), all of which are described in more detail on this website.
  • Arrhythmia. This is a disorder that causes an abnormal heart rhythm, although the heart structure and muscle usually look normal. Specific types of arrhythmias include long QT syndrome (LQTS), Brugada syndrome (BrS) and catecholaminergic polymorphic ventricular tachycardia (CPVT), all of which are described in more detail on this website.
  • Thoracic aortic aneurysms and dissections (TAAD). The aorta is the largest artery in the human body and leads out of the heart into the body. Aneurysms can result in thinning and tearing of the wall of the aorta or other major blood vessels. Marfan syndrome is the most common inherited condition that causes TAAD. Marfan syndrome and other inherited conditions that cause TAAD are described in more detail on this website.
  • Familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). This is a condition that causes extremely high cholesterol that runs in families is described in more detail on this website. FH can result in an increased risk for early coronary artery disease and heart attacks.

Most of the inherited heart diseases listed above are passed down in an autosomal dominant pattern and often show up in multiple generations in a family. These disorders can also be associated with death at a young age due to a heart attack, sudden cardiac arrest, or an aortic dissection. Knowing if you are at an increased risk for one of these disorders can help you make sure that you get the proper medical care to prevent any serious events.

Many other heart diseases can run in families in a more complicated pattern. Often, these are caused by the combination of genes that are passed down and environmental factors, including diet, exercise, smoking, ethnicity, gender and more. If you have a family history of high cholesterol, heart attacks or stroke, you may have an increased risk for heart disease. Working to control factors such as diet and exercise can help reduce your risk.

Talk with your doctor about your family history to see if you may be at increased risk for one of these disorders, or other heart disease that can be influenced by your genetics. Knowing your risk can help you and your doctor plan ahead and make the best decisions for your health.