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Genes can pose a risk for runners


  • Statistics have found that the average age of people who die while running is 42, with up to 86% of those affected being men. The most common reason for these fatalities are cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.
  • 90% of genetic heart disease cases can be caused by different types of genes, such as genes responsible for high cholesterol and genes that increase inflammation while 5-10% of cases occur as a result of a specific type of gene that causes heart disease and is present since birth.
  • There are no solutions for heart disease resulting from a person’s genes. However, regular heart screening can prevent death if the patient acts according to the doctor’s advice.


Genes can pose a risk for runners

Running is undeniably becoming one of the most popular forms of exercise for people of any age, gender or background. You may have noticed that there are more and more running events being organized, including marathons and mini marathons. Although running is capable of strengthening the body, if we are unprepared or we have some previously undiagnosed health conditions, such as irregularities affecting the heart muscle or coronary arteries, it could result in a heart attack. This is the case with so many of those runners who make the news each month. Although annual health screenings may not identify any abnormalities, undergoing specific heart screening before running longer distances and regular training sessions are both vital in terms of enabling the body to adjust itself for the upcoming stress it will be placed under.

Many of you may have wondered why there has been a rise in the number of news stories involving runners losing their lives. The two factors affecting this trend are, firstly, the overall increase in people taking up the sport and, secondly., the subsequent surge in running events to accommodate them. Statistics related to these occurrences have found that the average age of runners who lose their lives is 42, with up to 86% of those victims being male. The most common cause of death is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy while any survivors of heart-related issues were usually found to be suffering from ischemic heart disease. Additionally, approximately 10% of cases were found to have a family history of heart disease.

Genetic heart diseases refer to heart diseases that are mainly the result of a person’s genetic makeup, with 90% of cases caused by a number of such genes, including those associated with high cholesterol and those responsible for causing inflammation. The remaining 5-10% of cases can be put down to a single gene responsible for causing heart disease, with such genes present since birth. The following types of families are at high risk of genetic heart disease:

  1. Families with several members of differing generations all suffering from the same heart condition.
  2. Families with members who have suffered from ischemic heart disease or heart failure from a young age, especially those experiencing said conditions before the age of 45 for men and 55 for women.
  3. Families with several members who suffered sudden death with no clear causes.
  4. Families with members who have been diagnosed with specific forms of coronary heart disease, such as cardiomyopathy, cardiomegaly, right ventricular hypertrophy, sudden unexpected death syndrome, long QT syndrome, early onset atherosclerosis, Marfan syndrome, etc.

Those with family members who have suffered or are suffering from any of the aforementioned disorders should undergo heart screening analysis to identify whether or not they themselves are experiencing any associated symptoms due to the risk that they too may be carrying the same dangerous genes. In cases where a direct relative has such a condition, including mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and cousins, the risks of genetic transfer are as high as 50%. Hence, early diagnosis can enable prevention against repeated fatalities within a family, allowing for effective treatment before the disorder has the chance to develop. Furthermore, married couples planning on starting their own family for whom one or both parties has a family history of heart disease should consult with a doctor before conceiving in order to protect their child from the genetic inheritance of any dangerous heart disorders.

If a gene associated with life-threatening forms of heart conditions is identified, such as sudden unexpected death syndrome which can lead to severe arrhythmia, we are now able to provide treatment in the form of an automatic implantable cardiovascular defibrillator inserted into the patient’s chest. Alternatively, in those patients who have genes associated with cardiomyopathy, which can result in serious symptoms or loss of life while playing sports, early diagnosis will enable doctors to provide tailored advice and recommendations on how best to protect oneself.

There are no comprehensive solutions for genetic heart conditions as they are present in a person’s DNA since birth. However, screening using the latest precision medicine techniques and following the doctor’s advice can prevent an early loss of life, enabling the patient to lead a fulfilled and healthy life.

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Ph.D. Objoon Trachoo, M.D. Summary: Internal Medicine Internal Medicine