(Photo: Jens Wolf/Landov)
While heart attacks and other forms of heart disease can be prevented, researchers from Duke University Medical Center have found that sometimes these problems can be genetic. In a recent study, doctors found that a common gene variant found in African-Americans may be linked to developing life-threatening heart arrhythmias (when the heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly).
By recognizing this gene and its potential risks, researchers hope that it will help doctors determine which patients are likely to benefit most from an implantable cardio-defibrillator (ICD) -- a device that automatically detects and corrects potentially deadly heart rhythms by sending a jolt of electricity through the patient.
Yet, there have been questions as to whether ICDs work.
In a press release, Dr. Albert Y. Sun the study's lead author said, "Much debate surrounds the identification of patients for ICD implantation, which takes into account efficacy, cost and complication rates."
To test whether ICDs could prevent sudden cardiac deaths, researchers implanted 112 Black with the devices and followed them for about two years. During that time, the ICDs were effectively activated in 23 of the patients. They also found that the participants with the gene variant, known as the Y1103 allele, were three times more likely have the device triggered because of a potentially life-threatening ventricular arrhythmia and that 13 percent of African-Americans are carriers of Y1103. Patients who were carriers of Y1103 also experienced their first arrhythmia 448 days sooner than those without the gene (609 days versus 1,057 days).
This is very important news to us because we are disproportionately affected by heart failure, arrhythmias and sudden cardiac death, yet we have not been included in as many clinical trials in the past as we should be. This study is the largest study to date of African-Americans, ICDs and heart arrhythmias.
It's important to know that sometimes arrhythmias don't have any signs or symptoms. But the good news is that you can get tested for it—just ask your doctor about it during your next physical.
Some noticeable arrhythmia symptoms include:
—A fluttering in your chest
—A racing heartbeat
—A slow heartbeat
—Shortness of breath
—Fainting or near fainting
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