Could heart failure be hereditary?

According to the results of an American study, children of parents who develop heart failure appear to be predisposed themselves to suffer from the condition. Genetic factors could be responsible.

According to the results of an American study, children of parents who develop heart failure appear to be predisposed themselves to suffer from the condition. Genetic factors could be responsible.

Heart failure refers to the inability of the heart to effectively pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body. The heart is divided into four cavities (two atria and two ventricles) that successively fill and empty with every heartbeat. In a person suffering from heart failure, the ability of the ventricles to fill with and then eject blood is impaired. The main cause of the condition is atherosclerosis, the build-up of cholesterol deposits in the arteries. Other known causes include hypertension, certain thyroid gland diseases, anomalies of the heart valves (which are located at the exit of the atria and ventricles), alcohol abuse and taking medication that can be toxic for the muscles that line the heart. Persons affected by the disease may feel breathless, bloated, weak and unable to pursue prolonged physical activity.

Researchers studied nearly 1500 men and women whose parents had taken part in a large-scale national study on heart health (the Framingham Study). They found that participants whose parents suffered from heart failure were almost twice as likely to have left-ventricular dysfunction as participants whose parents did not have the condition. Left-ventricular dysfunction can lead to heart failure if left untreated. The team also found a 70% increase in the risk of heart failure among participants whose parents were affected.

The researchers believe several mechanisms could explain the phenomenon. Genetic factors may be transmitted from one generation to the next and thus provoke the body’s maladaptive responses to biological and environmental agents. It may also be that certain members of the same family present with stiffer blood vessels that don’t react as well to blood pressure variations and with a tendency to retain water and salt. These characteristics can contribute to an increased risk of heart failure. Lastly, the study findings may be due to a still-unidentified combination of genetic, environmental, behavioural, and lifestyle-related factors.

Although the team recommends further research in this area, these findings could already help us identify individuals at risk for heart failure sooner and therefore limit their number of risk factors. There is a hereditary component to many diseases. However, it is fairly rare for a disease to be purely hereditary. Our lifestyle plays an important role in maintaining our health. For example, when we know certain individuals have one or both parents suffering from heart failure, we should pay particular attention to their blood pressure and cholesterol level in order to prevent the onset of cardiovascular diseases that could bring about heart failure. If you are concerned about certain diseases in your family, don’t hesitate to bring up the matter with your doctor.

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