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Researchers Identified Stress Gene Tied to Heart Attack Risk

Update Date: Dec 19, 2013 09:23 AM EST

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Disease (CDC) reports that roughly 715,000 people suffer from a heart attack every year. Heart attacks can be caused by several factors, such as obesity, hypertension and excessive alcohol consumption. In a new study, researchers examined another possible risk factor, genetics. The researchers from the Duke University School of Medicine found that a gene responsible for high levels of stress could also increase a person's risk of suffering from a heart attack.

For this study, the researchers analyzed a single DNA letter change present in the human genome. The particular change that the researchers looked at was responsible for the body's response to the effects of stress. The researchers discovered that people with this particular gene, called 5HTR2C, had a 38 percent increased risk of heart attack or death due to heart disease within seven years of the study's follow-up.

"This is one step towards the day when we will be able to identify people on the basis of this genotype who are at higher risk of developing heart disease in the first place," Dr. Redford Williams, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at the University, said according to BBC News. "That's a step in the direction of personalized medicine for cardiovascular disease."

The researchers also reported that around one in ten males and three percent of the females in their study of 6,100 heart patients had the stress gene. The stress gene made handling stress more difficult. The researchers believe that for people with this gene, in order to reduce the risk of a heart attack, they must utilize stress management tools.

"By finding a possible mechanism behind this relationship, these researchers have suggested tackling the problem either by changing behavior or, if needed, with existing medicines," Professor Jeremy Pearson, an associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said. "There are positive lifestyle changes you can make to help you cope with stress. A balanced diet and regular physical activity will help you feel better able to cope with life's demands."

"This research may one day help to identify patients who should be candidates for more intensive disease prevention and treatment strategies," added Dr. Peter Kaufmann, a deputy branch chief of the Clinical Applications and Prevention Branch at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, reported by FOX News.

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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