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Health News

Early tests could identify heart risks

People in their 20s and 30s could soon be offered the same cholesterol-lowering drugs taken by their parents, following pioneering research identifying the genetic factors which increase the risk of heart attack.

Scientists say the discovery of nine genetic mutations that, when inherited together, can double the risk of heart disease, means young people may in future be offered DNA tests to see if they should be taking statins – the cholesterol-lowering drugs usually prescribed to those in their 50s and 60s.

Three of the mutant genes are believed to raise cholesterol levels in the blood, and the remaining six may increase the build-up of fatty deposits in coronary arteries – which raise the risk of heart disease.

The discovery means it should soon be possible to test the DNA of teenagers to see which of the nine genetic mutations they have inherited.

Those at risk could then be offered statins to reduce the build-up before damage is done.

Genes are largely responsible for why some people suffer heart attacks early in life despite a healthy lifestyle, while others remain healthy even when they eat fatty food, smoke and take little exercise.

"Young people with the highest genetic risk are the ones who can benefit most from early intervention," said Professor Sekar Kathiresan, director of preventive cardiology at the Massachusetts General Hospital, who led one of the five teams of researchers whose work is published today in the journal Nature Genetics.