Cardiac Genetic Counselors in Today’s Medicine

Medical Field - Genetics.

Genetic counselors play a vital role in providing comprehensive cardiac care; employing specialized experience in the disciplines of medical genetics and counseling. The National Society of Genetic Counselors reports approximately 2,700 genetic counselors working in the United States, most working in cancer and reproductive genetic counseling; however an increasing number of these professional are choosing to concentrate on cardiovascular disease.  Accepted guidelines dictate that patients be referred for genetic counseling when a cardiac diagnosis with a genetic component is either identified or suspected in the family history. These factors may include:

  • Several family members with the same type of heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease in close relatives whose age at diagnosis is less than 55 years old in a male or 65 years old in a female
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Familial thoracic aneurysm
  • Sudden cardiac death in related patients less than 50 years old
  • Cardiac device or heart transplant in patients less than 50 years old

Cardiovascular genetic counselors work in cooperation with cardiologists to consolidate patient and family medical history and determine the level of risk for cardiovascular disease. They work in partnership to determine if family screening and genetic testing is appropriate, and provide necessary support when recommendations are made. Genetic counselors ensure that genetic testing is being utilized in the right context and that the complex test results are correctly understood and explained to patients/families and their health care providers, so that educated decisions can be made with the best information.
Genetic testing has become increasingly cost effective, and therefore more accessible to patients across the board. Genetic counselors are an invaluable resource to explain the results of this testing; as well as interpret the conclusions and coordinate a plan of action with patients, families and providers. A “family letter” outlining the results, the implications and the family screening recommendations is provided so patients are not responsible for relaying results to their relatives.

National guidelines dictate that genetic counseling is recommended anytime a patient undergoes genetic testing. A complete list of genetic counselors is available on the National Society of Genetic Counselors website.