HealthZette

Protect Your Child from Disease (Forever?)

Today's new tests, with an industry push, are a smart temptation

Monitor your child’s cholesterol levels? You might want to talk with your pediatrician about it during your next visit.

New research from the American Heart Association shows a genetically transmitted high cholesterol condition is twice as common in the United States than previously thought. This means that one out of every 250 American adults are now considered at risk for high cholesterol — the leading cause of heart attacks.

The study looked at almost 40,000 adults between the years 1999 and 2012, focusing on high levels of low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol — or the “bad” cholesterol known to contribute to plaque build up in arteries — and early heart disease occurring in the person or a close relative.

With these latest findings, the AHA is now recommending that we monitor and even test for cholesterol levels as early as childhood to implement early preventative measures and improve later-in-life diagnosis. Familial hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) symptoms can lay dormant for years before a serious heart attack occurs.

Yet high cholesterol isn’t the only condition we might monitor at a younger age in the hope of avoiding disease.

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“I have a history of cancer in my family and I wanted to know if I needed to start getting screened,” said Katie Bartels, a jewelry designer in New York City. “I wanted to know if there was anything I needed to keep on my radar in the future.”

“I found out that — knock on wood — I don’t have anything major to concern myself with. I obviously will do all of the required screenings as I get older but I’m glad to know I’m not predisposed to anything,” she said.

Analysts valued the global DNA testing market at $6.2 billion back in 2014, with a focus on disease prevention pushing its growth. But do all of these tests predict our future health with 100 percent accuracy? And if they do work and prevent us from ailing, what does a future without disease look like?

Genetic testing for breast cancer has been one of the more popular and widely known tests available over the past decade. However, some experts say having the BRCA test done is not heavily recommended because the results may only predict risk for developing breast cancer.

“The limitation of the [BRCA] test is that even people positive for the mutation may not get the disease,” Zachary Kornblum, a pharmacy student at the University of North Carolina, told LifeZette. Meaning, just because you learn you could contract breast cancer doesn’t mean you indeed will.

Another genetic test that looks at a persons risk for Huntington’s Disease has limitations as well. Korblum says the test can’t predict the onset, progression of symptoms or improve treatment of the disease. “There is also the potential emotional stress from knowing that you will develop the disease if you test positive.”

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“It can be terrifying. You’ve got to be able to handle the results,” Professor Jim Fallon at the University of California, Irvine School of Medicine, told LifeZette.

“Knowing the truth can help a whole bunch of people because they’re worried about dying. However, ancestry is not genetics. Genetics aren’t a death sentence, and some people may never have to worry no matter the results.”

Despite potential drawbacks, the results could be lifesaving. And they’re one genetic test away.

“Genetic data can provide a lot of insights into health and aid with better lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Savsunenko, CEO of Titanovo Inc, a genetic testing startup that offers tests to individual consumers, industry researchers, and health care organizations.

“There is a genetic anti-discrimination act, that theoretically blocks insurance companies from using genetic data,” said Dr. Savsunenko. “But this could not last long as there is a huge money-saving potential both for insurance companies and clients.”

“Knowing your genetics can indeed by a good thing either way,” said Dr. Fallon. The results can be life-changing for not only the individual being tested, but for generations to come.

With that, she also offers this reminder: The results can affect your entire family no matter the outcome. “You should get family buy-in (on doing the test), because you’re related.” Meaning, what one person may find out can affect other family members. And, some people in your family may prefer to let nature take it’s course.

Knowing heart disease often runs in families gives us fair warning of who might be at risk, however, without any fancy screening. Protecting your children from a lifetime of risk for the disease by performing a simple blood test while they’re at the doctor, researchers believe, is something families should do.