Contributed by- Dr. Snehal Singh
You look exactly like your mom. You have your father’s smile. Don’t you feel really proud when you hear this?
Nothing can define the love that we feel for our parents. Our parents are the most important influence in our lives and we owe whatever we are today to them. We not only inherit physical traits from them but a lot of their habits as well. But did you know that we also inherit many illnesses from our parents?
Yes, there are many inherited diseases that can affect you if your parents are suffering from it. Inherited diseases / hereditary diseases or genetic disorders are those illnesses that are passed from parents to their children.
Genetics of inherited disorders
Some genetic disorders are linked to specific genes or chromosomes and follow a specific pattern of inheritance like. These include:
- Cystic fibrosis
- Sickle cell anaemia
- Marfan syndrome
- Down syndrome
- Turner syndrome
The genetic disorders list includes many more conditions and these can be diagnosed with the help of medical evaluation and blood tests.
Similarly, many inherited disorders are multi-factorial. A person’s lifestyle choices and environmental factors play a major role in addition to the genetic predisposition. People with a family history of such problems are at greater risk of having them. But as other environmental factors also play an important role, a lot can be done to prevent and control these disorders. While the risk of many lifestyle disorders is inherited through genes, a lot also depends on environmental factors like climate, viral infections, diet, physical activity and overall health status. Here is a list of few common inherited diseases, the incidence of which can be prevented.
- High blood pressure
Genetic history acts as a major risk factor for the high blood pressure. High blood pressure or hypertension is one of the major diseases leading to several other health problems like heart disorders, stroke and premature mortality. Unhealthy habits like smoking, unhealthy diet, drinking are some of the most common triggers.
There is a a 50% likelihood that you can inherit the problem from your parents. High level of cholesterol especially high LDL levels or bad cholesterol is defined as Familial Hypercholesterolemia (FH). Recent studies have shown that the risk of high cholesterol is present in 25–30% of urban and 15–20% rural people.
According to American Diabetes Association, most cases of type 1 diabetes are related to inheritance of diabetes risk factors from both parents. However, as many people who are at risk of diabetes, may not suffer from it, the environmental factors are of more importance. Type 2 diabetes, is also linked to genes. A global prevalence exceeding 300 million people and predicting a further 60–70% increase by the year 2030 is reported. Also, it is estimated by the International Diabetes Federation that India alone will have 100 million people with diabetes by 2030, out of which around 90% cases will be type 2 diabetes. It is also noted that increased food consumption and decreased physical activity are the major contributing factors to this problem.
- Heart disorders
Heart diseases like coronary artery diseases are genetic but can be avoided with proper precautions. Cholesterol, diabetes and hypertension which are also genetic in nature, adds to your risk of heart diseases. Timely detection of latent or undiscovered medical problems is important. An undetected heart condition can lead to heart failure.
Studies have shown that although genetic links may be present, family habits and lifestyle preferences, play a greater role. Obesity too runs in families and most family members have similar food and activity habits. Studies have also shown that the risk can be reduced or delayed by regular exercises and weight management. This suggests that much depends on the dietary choices, activity levels and lifestyle preferences of a person, even if there is an inherited risk.
Asthma is a respiratory disorder and affects the lungs. It runs high in the families. It is highly advised to take proper steps as healthy lifestyle, regular exercise, breathing exercises to curb the risks of this deadly disease.
Rheumatoid arthritis (an autoimmune disorder) and osteoarthritis (a degenerative disorder) are linked to your genes. Environmental factors like obesity or weight gain, lack of physical activity and lifestyle preferences also determine the risk. People with previous joint injuries are more prone to joint problems. Early detection of arthritis can help with the timely treatment. In addition to the symptoms, few arthritis profile tests like CBC, RA factor, ESR, CRP and other autoimmune disorders tests also helps in the detection of arthritis.
Most cancers are not linked to genes that we inherit from our parents but there are few cancers that run the family like breast cancer, ovarian cancer and prostate cancer. People who have inherited such genes have higher chances of acquiring cancer than other.
Considering the number of medical complications and diseases that one can be exposed to due to the genes we are born, it is important to know what diseases run in your family and get detected for them.
Why does an inherited disease appear only some of the time?
Diet, physical activity, sleep routine and lifestyle of a person has a greater influence on a person’s health than genes and this is specially true for multi-factorial inherited diseases. The incidence of hereditary diseases may be seen only in some cases. People with other risk factors like overweight, stress, faulty dietary habits, lack of exercise have higher chances of getting diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol than those who have healthy eating habits and a healthy lifestyle.
Also, in many cases, several triggering factors can surface certain underlying genetic conditions. For example stress, trauma, allergies, injuries, viral infections etc. may trigger certain reactions that may flare-up these latent diseases running in the genes. Lifestyle disorders have a genetic link which increases a person’s risk and if necessary prevention is not taken, may turn into a diagnosis too.
Not all people having a family history of diabetes will suffer from it, while not all people having diabetes, have a family history of it. This is because inherited genes is just one factor which raises the risk but other environmental factors and an individual’s lifestyle is more crucial.
Can you really do something to prevent genetic diseases?
For any known genetic disorders in the family, couples are advised to go for genetic counselling before planning to have a baby. If the first child born is diagnosed with any such disorders while they have not been there in the family before, it is necessary to seek medical opinion before planning a second child.
For multi-factorial inherited disorders, much depends on the lifestyle and health choices of a person which can be modified to prevent diseases. The best way to stay clear of multi-factorial inherited diseases is to take necessary steps to prevent them. The first step is to be aware of your family history and evaluate personal health and lifestyle.
People having greater risk of lifestyle disorders need to make healthier choices and plan a healthy lifestyle to prevent them. Also, regular screenings, blood pressure monitoring and blood tests can help in early detection and timely treatment. Blood glucose tests for diabetes, lipid profile to know heart disease risk and thyroid profile are some of the important tests advised to all. Tests for inflammatory markers, arthritis are also helpful.
How to deal with inherited disorders, if diagnosed?
Genetic problems linked to specific genes are treated with specific measures. Treatment in such cases depends on the symptoms and severity of the condition and often includes medications, rehabilitation therapies and advanced treatment options for some.
For lifestyle problems with a genetic predominance there are various treatment options. Medications, appropriate diet and lifestyle modifications can help to control such conditions. Some advanced conditions may require surgery and the best treatment option can be decided with medical advice. In order to deal with such inherited disorders, timely medical advice and regular monitoring with blood tests can help to control the condition and prevent complications.
So, if you want to know whether you have inherited any such disorder from your parents, get your blood tests done now. Know your health risks and seek timely medical advice. You can also avoid the risk of such genetic disorders in your kids by being aware of them. Many diseases may be in the genes but will not always affect you, only if you stay ahead of them.
So, spot them before they stop you! Stay aware, stay fit!