Clinic screens patients for genetic heart problems

PHOTO: Clinic screens patients for genetic heart problems

Retail assistant Aziz Marjan, 54, has a rare heart condition, one which took the lives of his son, brother and niece.

It has little to do with lifestyle or age. His 23-year-old daughter, Wardah, has it too.

Instead, it is caused by a gene mutation that is inherited, causing sufferers to have cardiomyopathy where heart muscles are abnormal, rendering the heart unable to pump blood efficiently.

He might not have found out if he had not been referred last November to the inherited cardiac conditions clinic, the only one here that screens patients for genetic heart problems.

The relatives of those who tested positive may also be asked to go for screenings, like Mr Aziz's daughter, who tested positive.

Set up nearly two years ago, the clinic housed at the National University Heart Centre Singapore (NUHCS) has seen about 190 patients so far. The centre hopes to expand the service to the National Heart Centre Singapore next, said Associate Professor Roger Foo of NUHCS' cardiology department at a media briefing on Tuesday.

Patients do not need to pay for the screenings, which are covered by research grants. "Previously, if cardiologists felt that (patients) needed a test, the (sample for the) test was usually sent to the United States," Prof Foo said. "This tends to be very expensive - about US$4,000 (S$5,040)."

Inherited conditions like Mr Aziz's are fairly rare, say doctors.

About 1,000 people die suddenly every year with no apparent cause, and inherited heart conditions are behind around 250 of these. Knowing about them can make a big difference, especially if detected early. "It can make a difference to people's lives," said Prof Foo.

The clinic also counsels patients so that they understand that having a serious condition is not a death sentence.

Said senior consultant Raymond Wong: "(The test) can introduce some certainty, but it can also create some inconveniences and anxiety."

For Mr Aziz, all is well for now. He now has a pacemaker, and his heart is doing well. "So far, so good. I don't have any blockages," he said. "Now I'm worried about my daughter."

This article was first published on Sept 18, 2014.
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