A one-off genetic test costing less than £40 can show if a person is born with a predisposition to heart disease.
The Genomic Risk Score (GRS) test is cheap enough to allow population-wide screening of children, researchers believe. Medical and lifestyle interventions could then be employed to reduce the chances of those most at risk of suffering heart attacks in adulthood.
A study found that participants with a GRS in the top 20% were more than four times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those with scores in the bottom 20%. Many in the “at risk” category lacked the usual heart disease indicators, such as high cholesterol and blood pressure.
Senior author Sir Nilesh Samani, the professor of cardiology at the University of Leicester and medical director of the British Heart Foundation charity, said: “At the moment, we assess people for their risk of coronary heart disease in their 40s through NHS health checks. But we know this is imprecise and also that coronary heart disease starts much earlier, several decades before symptoms develop.
“Therefore, if we are going to do true prevention, we need to identify those at increased risk much earlier. This study shows that the GRS can now identify such individuals.
“Applying it could provide a most cost-effective way of preventing the enormous burden of coronary heart disease, by helping doctors select patients who would most benefit from interventions.”