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Pierre Jaïs, M.D. Professor of Cardiology, Haut-Lévêque Hospital, Bordeaux, France

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Dr. Wilber Su,
Cavanaugh Heart Center, 
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Ira David Levin, heart patient, 
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"Within the pages of Beat Your A-Fib, Dr. Steve Ryan, PhD, provides a comprehensive guide for persons seeking to find a cure for their Atrial Fibrillation."

Walter Kerwin, MD, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, CA



AF Symposium 2012

Summary by Steve S. Ryan, PhD, January 2012

Patrick Ellinor, MD

Patrick Ellinor,

Genetics of A-Fib—40% Increased Risk of Developing A-Fib If Relative Has It

Genetic research in A-Fib, though in its preliminary stages, has the potential to be a game changer for patients with A-Fib. Dr. Patrick Ellinor of Mass General, Boston gave a presentation on the “Genetics of A-Fib: How Will We Translate GWAS Findings to Clinical Practice?”

A-Fib Is Inheritable

“If you have any immediate family with A-Fib, you have a 40% increased risk of developing A-Fib yourself. And the younger that someone in your family gets A-Fib, the more likely you are to have A-Fib.”

Screen for A-Fib?

If someone has A-Fib, should all their immediate family members be screened for A-Fib? Since in the US alone over three million people have A-Fib, it isn’t possible or practical to screen all family members for A-Fib. And even if we could screen everyone, we don’t yet have the means to prevent A-Fib from developing or even to identify patients with pre-A-Fib.

Editor’s Comments: If anyone in your immediate family has A-Fib, you are very likely to develop A-Fib yourself. You have to be more aware and vigilant than the average person. If, for example, you feel palpitations or a racing heart rate, take it very seriously. Don’t hesitate or delay in going to an Electrophysiologist (EP) to have yourself checked out. Make sure you tell your EP or Cardiologist that your relative has A-Fib.

Specific Genetic Chromosomes Associated With A-Fib

Dr. Ellinor identified the specific genetic chromosomes currently found to be associated with A-Fib:

  • 1q21
  • 16q22
  • and particularly 4q25

People with a particular combination of 3 genetic variants on chromosome 4q25 are six times more likely to develop A-Fib.

Further Research Needed

But current research has only revealed “associations.” Further research is needed to determine:

  1. Are these chromosomes associated with and/or do they cause an increased risk of A-Fib stroke, heart failure and death?
  2. Are these genetic variants associated with or do they indicate that a certain treatment should be used or that a certain outcome is more likely?
  3. How important are these genetic variants in the development of A-Fib?
  4. How do these genetic variants affect what types of arrhythmia develop? Do Paroxysmal A-Fib, Permanent A-Fib, or A-Flutter have different genetic profiles?
  5. And most importantly, how do these genetic variants work? What Is the mechanism behind the association?

“Right now all we have is an association.” “We don’t have a fundamental understanding as to how the variants themselves lead to the (A-Fib) disease.”

Warn all Your Immediate Family Members

If you have A-Fib, you must warn all your immediate family members that they have a good chance of getting it also. Even though we don’t know yet how to definitively prevent A-Fib, there are some precautions your family members can take:
  1. Avoid binge drinking and heavy partying.
  2. Avoid antihistamines and anything that can stimulate or trigger A-Fib. (see A-Fib Triggers) (This doesn’t necessarily include coffee. Some research indicates coffee may prevent A-Fib.)
  3. Be more attentive to overall health. Obesity, for example, is often a contributing factor to A-Fib. Sleep apnea is known to lead to A-Fib.
  4. Check for deficiencies in essential minerals (electrolytes) like magnesium or potassium? Are calcium levels too high (which may be a trigger for A-Fib)?
  5. Avoid or learn to cope with stress (not always possible).
    There is a tendency in all of us to not tell others if we are ill, perhaps because we perceive it as somewhat humiliating and a weakness in ourselves. But no one should be ashamed of having A-Fib. Most likely it isn’t anything we brought on ourselves. It’s genetic! It’s nobody’s fault!

We are not being fair to our family members by not telling them about our A-Fib. Don’t just mention it in passing. Sit down with them and tell them what A-Fib is like, and that they are at risk.

If you love your family, you owe it to them. This applies particularly to your brothers and sisters with whom you may have a loving but somewhat competitive relationship. Anyone in your immediate family must be warned.

If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Monday, May 1, 2017

Back to: 2012 AF Symposium

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