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Gene May Trigger Type of Heart Disease

Update Date: Feb 07, 2013 11:12 AM EST

Researchers have discovered that a certain gene variant may be tied to the third most common type of heart disease in the United States.

The condition is called aortic valve calcification, which is linked to the disease aortic stentosis. The disease is characterized by increased calcium deposits of the aortic valve, the main valve pumping blood between the heart and the rest of the body. The disease makes it difficult for blood to move through the valve. If a corrective surgery does not occur quickly, most people die within two years of diagnosis. People who suffer from the condition often do not have symptoms until a certain stage, which can be marked by symptoms as diverse as fainting, heart attacks and early death, ABC News reports.

Researchers from McGill, Johns Hopkins and Harvard, among others, examined the role of a gene variant for LPA. The gene codes for a cholesterol particle called lipoprotein (a). Previous research had already found that the gene and heart attacks were linked, but this study was the first that suggested that the gene variant may play an active role in the development of the disorder. It can also help explain why the condition appears to be hereditary.

Researchers found that people who had a certain type of variant of the LPA gene were more likely to display aortic valve calcification on a CT scan. It also raised the risk of suffering from aortic stentosis by more than 50 percent, according to Health Day.

Interestingly, doctors do not screen for the molecule. Many doctors say that the finding may not encourage them to start. The disease only affects 1 to 2 percent of the population, they note, meaning that, even for people with the gene variant, their risk for developing the disease is still 1 in 30. Doctors say that they would probably only screen for the gene in patients who have a family history that might suggest that they have an increased risk of the problem.

Other risk factors for aortic valve calcification include advanced age, obesity and smoking. Men are more likely to suffer from the disease than women are.

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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