Less than half of people know whether they have a family history of heart disease, a charity has said.
A new poll by Cardiomyopathy UK found that 54% are unaware whether heart disease runs in their family.
The charity said it was “essential” for families to discuss the issue so people have a better chance of being identified before tragedy strikes.
Meanwhile, the charity’s survey of 2,000 British adults also found that 31% claim they had never been asked by a doctor whether they have a history of any health problems or diseases.
Its new awareness campaign is calling on people to learn about their family history of heart disease and recognise symptoms, including breathlessness, tiredness, swollen ankles or tummy, palpitations, dizziness or fainting, or chest pain.
“It’s essential that families start talking to each other about heart disease within the family,” said Joel Rose, chief executive of Cardiomyopathy UK. Sudden cardiac deaths can only be prevented if people at risk are identified. We would urge anyone with symptoms of cardiomyopathy or a family history to speak to their GP.
“Young people are the biggest losers in the diagnosis lottery as they don’t conform to a ‘typical heart patient’ so they are often misdiagnosed and their cardiomyopathy symptoms are often attributed to something else like asthma.
“Too many people have died suddenly from this disease. We all need to abandon our preconceptions and stereotypes of what a patient with a heart condition looks like. Family history is a crucial indicator of risk, and we all need to take action and start talking more for this to change.”
There are various different types of cardiomyopathy – which is a general term for diseases of the heart muscle – which affects the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body.
The charity estimates that the condition affects more than 160,000 people in the UK.
June Davison, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “Cardiomyopathy can be an inherited heart condition, which means that it’s passed on through families.
“Some members of a family may be affected more than others and some family members may not be affected or have any symptoms at all.
“If you have any close relatives – such as parents, siblings or children – who have cardiomyopathy, you may also have inherited the faulty gene, putting you at risk.
“If you’re aware that a close family member has this condition, it’s important that you see your doctor to arrange a referral to a specialist for investigations and to discuss the possibility of genetic testing.”