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Gene Test That Can Help Prevent Heart Disease

By Staff

A genetic test has been developed which can help take action to prevent heart disease, say experts.

Three Australian experts had called for more support to screen families with familial hypercholesterolaemia (FH), which involves a defective gene that prevents liver cells from taking up cholesterol from the blood.

The call follows reports that UK authorities may soon recommend at-risk children under the age of 10 years be screened for the FH gene.

"[The UK proposals] represent an approach we would like to see in Australia," ABC online quoted Dr David Sullivan, president of the Australian Atherosclerosis Society, who spoke at a forum organised by the Australian Science Media Centre in Adelaide.

Sullivan says FH affects up to 1 in 500 Australians but only 7percent of people with the condition are adequately treated.

FH increases the chance of early heart attack and stroke and is probably causing about 10 percent of heart attacks in people under age 60, he says.

Sullivan says half of the men with the usual form of FH develop coronary heart disease before they are 50.

He says a genetic test could help identify FH early so people could take action to prevent heart disease such as improving diet, preventing smoking, or undertaking drug treatment.

Sullivan says the UK has been researching FH for a relatively long time and more work is needed to tailor a screening program to the specific mutations and circumstances relevant to Australia.

Some experts say while prevention is a laudable aim, genetic tests may not necessarily trigger the preventive health measures people expect.

"Overall, logically it sounds beneficial but we already know people have risks of heart disease and are not able to change their behaviour," says social scientist Associate Professor Sandra Taylor of Central Queensland University.

Read more about: atherosclerosis food stroke
Story first published: Monday, September 8, 2008, 11:12 [IST]
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