Researchers believe this one-off test, costing £40, could detect heart attack risk

people with heart attack risk can find out using this genetic test

With the growth of running and the popularity of races, sadly more reports of untimely deaths reach the news. Following the tragic deaths of the two runners at the Cardiff Half Marathon, both of whom went into cardiac arrest at the finish line, and Matt Campbell, who collapsed at the 22.5 mile mark of the London Marathon earlier this year, it’s natural for runners to worry about their risk of heart attack or cardiac arrest when training for a longer distance. Yet a recent study has found that this one-off genetic test, costing £40, could identify individuals born with an increased risk of heart attack.

The Genomic Risk Score (GRS) can help explain why some runners are more likely to sadly suffer a heart attack on race day, and following the weekend’s news, experts say more work is needed to explore population-wide screening options.

In theory, the GRS can spot the gene at any age, as your DNA does not change in your lifetime. In a recent study, researchers used blood samples to detect the gene, although they said the test could be done with a simple mouth swab. The GRS was devised after researchers analysed data from 500,000 people aged between 40 and 69, including 22,000 who had coronary heart disease.

Related: 5 facts about a runner’s heart 

The lead author of the study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dr Michael Inouye, of the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute and University of Cambridge explained that roughly half of the cases of coronary heart disease are down to genetics, with the other half being down to lifestyle or environment. Telling the BBC, “we have been missing a genetic component in risk screenings…we’ve just been really in the dark about the genetic half.”

Whilst there’s still more work to be done before this genetic screening can be rolled out to the public via the NHS, it is a promising development into identifying those at risk earlier.

What is the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest? 

We spoke to the British Heart Foundation who explained the difference between the two. 

"A heart attack is when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked. The heart muscle is robbed of its vital blood supply, and if left untreated, will begin to die because it is not getting enoguh oxygen."

"A cardiac arrest is when a person's heart stops pumping blood around their body and they stop breathing normally. Many cardiac arrests in adults happen because of a heart attack. This is because a person who is having a heart attack may develop a dangerous heart rhythm, which can cause a cardiac arrest." 

Related: Why all runners should know CPR 

Maureen Talbot, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said:

"We know physical activity is beneficial and it is great that people rise to the challenge of completing an event like a half marathon, so it is shocking and distressing when a person unexpectedly dies suddenly. Having a cardiac arrest while taking part in a running event is very rare. However, it does happen and it’s vital that these individuals receive immediate CPR.

“A cardiac arrest is when a person’s heart stops pumping blood around their body and is the ultimate medical emergency; for every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation, a person’s chances of surviving a cardiac arrest falls by around 10 per cent. You should call 999 straight away and alert the event medical staff. All British Heart Foundation events have trained medical staff on hand so medical assistance can be quickly delivered.

“Most challenge events, whether running or other, will put your body under strain so it’s important to follow an appropriate training guide and withdraw from training or the event if you feel unwell.  If you’re worried about your heart or have a history of heart and circulatory diseases, we would strongly advise you to speak to your GP and have a medical assessment before taking part in a challenge event. At the BHF, any person with a medical condition that could be affected by exercise, particularly a heart condition, must obtain their doctor’s approval before participating in one of our events.

“Some heart conditions which cause sudden cardiac arrests can run in families so it is important to know your family history. Those with a family history of heart disease or an unexplained death in a family member at a young age should discuss this with their GP as they may be offered screening and /or genetic testing. Alternatively if you’re worried you can call the BHF Heart Helpline on  0300 330 3311 for information and support.”