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Families of sudden death patients should be screened for cardio risk

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Close relatives of a young person who dies suddenly should always be referred for cardiac and genetic screening to assess the risk of inherited heart disease, say Dutch researchers.

The team from the department of cardiogenetics at the Academic Medical Centre, Amsterdam, studied the first degree relatives of 127 people who had suffered a sudden unexplained death (SUD) in the family.

After taking a full personal and family medical history, and a resting ECG, additional cardiac examinations were carried out where necessary.

The researchers also performed a genetic analysis – comparing the genes of the relative with the deceased - on any family member who showed clinical abnormalities.

The researchers found heart inherited disease in 36, or more than a third, of the families studied, enabling them to treat the affected relatives and prevent them from succumbing to sudden cardiac death, they said.

‘The scale of heart disease that we found in such families underlines the necessity for general practitioners to refer first degree relatives of SUD victims to a specialised cardiogenetics department as soon as possible,’ said study author Christian van der Werf.

‘These professionals specialise in inherited heart diseases and their clinical and psychosocial implications, and can provide a better quality of care,’ he added.

Cardiologists should also receive more education in inherited heart disease, Dr van der Werf told delegates at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Genetics in Austria today. 

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