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April 11, 2013

Cardiovascular Genetics Clinic available for Virginia families

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The University of Virginia Health System is pleased to announce the creation of the UVA Cardiovascular Genetics Program. The program will play a crucial role in the improved treatment of hereditary heart conditions.

Just as hair color and height run in families, life-threatening heart diseases can be passed down from parent to child. Thanks to advances in genetic testing, UVA’s new program helps patients with genetic heart diseases and their family members who may be at risk.

“When people think about what causes heart problems, they often focus on lifestyle factors like diet and exercise,” said genetic counselor Matthew Thomas. “But some patients have forms of heart disease which are caused by a gene or genes that run in their family.”

New for the State

The UVA Cardiovascular Genetics Program, a joint effort between the UVA Heart and Vascular Center and UVA Children’s Hospital, is the first of its kind in Virginia. The program is dedicated to serving patients with genetic heart diseases and their families.

Their efforts will focus on four types of heart disease known to run in families: cardiomyopathies (heart muscle problems), arrhythmias (heart rhythm problems), aortic diseases (problems with the main blood vessel in the body) and congenital (present at birth) heart defects.

“UVA’s cardiologists and surgeons have been providing nationally recognized care for patients with genetic heart diseases for decades,” Thomas said. “Our new genetics program will focus on expanding this care to family members who may develop the same problems.”

Beyond Charlottesville, the program will see patients in Winchester, Lynchburg and Bristol.

How it Works

When patients are diagnosed with or suspected to have a genetic heart disease, they will have the option to meet with a genetic counselor to review their family history and genetic testing options. Genetic testing requires a small blood sample and is covered by most health insurers. Based on the test results, the patient receives education and counseling about what the results mean for their medical care and for their relatives.

“Once we know the gene that causes a patient’s heart disease, we can test other people in the family,” Thomas said. “In some situations, a patient’s diagnosis may save the life of their family members who never knew they were at risk for a serious heart problem.”

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