What is a Cardiovascular Genetics Evaluation?

A cardiovascular genetics evaluation is an appointment, and it includes gathering and reviewing your personal medical history and your family history. It will sometimes also include a recommendation for genetic testing for you to consider. This type of evaluation can happen in several ways:

  • You may review your personal and family histories and discuss genetic testing options with your cardiologist during a regular appointment in their clinic.
  • Your cardiologist or another doctor may refer you to a Genetics clinic for an evaluation. Learn more about this type of visit here.
  • Your cardiologist or another doctor may refer you to a genetic counselor to discuss and coordinate genetic testing.
  • You may have an appointment in a formal Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic. These clinics are more common at large academic medical centers, and are often part of the Cardiology Department. Cardiovascular Genetics Clinics typically include a cardiologist and either a genetic counselor or a genetics doctor (called a geneticist).All of them specialize in seeing people for inherited cardiovascular conditions. The genetic counselor or geneticist will discuss and coordinate any genetic testing.

What is genetic counseling?

As part of your cardiovascular genetics evaluation, you may have an appointment for genetic counseling. Genetic counseling is the process of helping people learn about genetic conditions, understand and adapt to their chances of having a genetic condition, and make informed decisions about any genetic testing and treatment options. Genetic counseling can be provided by genetic counselors and other appropriately-trained healthcare providers.

What is a genetic counselor?

Genetic counselors (GCs) are specially-trained healthcare providers, with expertise in genetics and communication. They can address your or your family's questions about genetic conditions in a supportive manner, and help you adjust to the information they learn. They also have expertise in genetic testing and can assist you and your family in considering the potential impact of genetic testing and in adjusting to the results of testing.

What do genetic counselors do?

GCs are often part of the healthcare team in a cardiovascular clinic, along with cardiologists, geneticists, nurses, physician assistants, and others. A GC often meets with people before they have genetic testing to discuss their medical and family histories, appropriate genetic testing options, and the pros/cons of genetic testing. GCs often coordinate the testing process and will meet with patients (and their families) after testing to discuss their results. These appointments usually involve discussing risks, additional testing options, implications to family members, and screening/treatments to consider.

As genetic testing technology advances, most genetic testing laboratories include GCs as part of their teams. GCs may work directly with healthcare providers to help them determine the best testing option to choose for a patient, and to understand the implications of that testing on the patient and his/her family members. GCs may also be actively involved in writing genetic test reports, to make them as understandable as possible for both doctors and patients. As well, GCs may advocate for those having genetic testing in many ways by developing written materials for families (like informational brochures and videos), partnering with local outreach organizations to support their efforts, and securely sharing data and research with the scientific community to advance the understanding of inherited cardiovascular disorders.

Why should I see a genetic counselor?

Genetic testing for inherited cardiovascular disorders can be complex. With new technologies and discoveries in the field, there can be many testing options. It's important to understand what genetic testing can and cannot tell you, and the possible results. A genetic counselor can also help you understand what this testing might mean for your family members. Sometimes, the first genetic test you have may not find an answer, and it could be important to consider additional testing. A genetic counselor can review these testing options with you.

Talk to someone with specialized knowledge

Because of the complex nature of genetic testing and the results, it is important to meet with someone who has expertise in cardiovascular genetics for genetic counseling before you have testing. Even if genetic testing does not feel right for you, you may still want to meet with a healthcare provider experienced in cardiovascular genetics to learn more about your risk and the screening recommended for you and family members. Deciding whether or not to have genetic testing can be difficult. By meeting with a healthcare provider with expertise in this area, you can make an informed decision that works best for you and your family.

A GC or other specially-trained healthcare provider can help you understand what genetic testing might mean for you and your family, answer questions you may have, and provide additional resources for you. GCs can also assist you after testing by helping you understand your risk, talk with your family members, and follow-up on recommendations based on your results.

How do I find a genetic counselor in my area?

Visit these websites to locate a genetic counselor or Genetics clinic near you.

National Society of Genetic Counselors

The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) is the leading voice for genetic counselors. It promotes the professional interests of genetic counselors and provides a network for professional communication.

Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors

CAGC can provide information about the benefits of genetic counseling and help you find a local genetics clinic to access a genetic counselor in Canada.