Subsidised health checks for people at risk of hereditary heart conditions
Scheme from the Department of Health will begin this month
People with deceased family members whose postmortems found a genetic mutation that might cause a hereditary heart disorder will be offered subsidised medical check-ups by the Department of Health.
A postmortem genetic test will also be offered in cases with unidentified causes of death after an autopsy, the department said on Tuesday.
The move, starting this month, came as a local study revealed that almost 30 per cent of people who died from sudden cardiac arrest carried a genetic mutation leading to Sudden Arrhythmia Death Syndromes (SADS), a genetic heart disorder that can cause sudden death in young and apparently healthy people.
Under the latest arrangement, the department’s Clinical Genetic Service will run postmortem genetic analysis on bodies handled in public mortuaries if the autopsy could not identify the cause of death or if it pointed to a possibility that the deceased suffered from SADS.
If the deceased is found to carry a genetic mutation related to SADS or other diseases, his or her family members will be offered medical consultation to see if they carry such genes. Those found to be at risk will be referred to specialists for clinical follow-up.
Charges for running genetic tests on family members are the same as the standard fees for the department’s existing clinical genetic service. For Hong Kong residents, the cost is HK$135 for the first consultation and HK$80 for follow-up consultations. Services are free for civil servants and Hospital Authority staff.
“If family members can identify whether they are affected by the mutated gene, they could receive preventive measures earlier,” said Dr Mok Ngai-shing, a cardiologist from Princess Margaret Hospital who was responsible for the local study, which is a collaboration between the hospital, the department’s Forensic Pathology Service and the SADS HK Foundation.
The two-year study, which started in 2014, targeted cardiac death victims aged between five and 40, whose causes of death were unidentified by autopsies carried out in public mortuaries or who suffered from inheritable heart muscle diseases. A total of 21 deceased and 11 of their family members received genetic tests.
According to the findings, about 29 per cent of 21 people who died from sudden cardiac arrest carried genetic mutations leading to SADS. The same percentage of them also experienced fainting when alive but did not seek medical treatment.
Among the 11 family members of the deceased, six of them were also found to carry the genetic mutation leading to SADS.
Mok said there was no estimate of the number of people in Hong Kong affected by the specific genetic mutation, but he advised those with a family history of sudden deaths or fainting for uncertain reasons to seek medical help as soon as possible.
He said there were a number of preventive measures for treating people with SADS, including medication or installation of an implantable cardioverter defibrillator, a device that keeps track of one’s heart rate and delivers electric shocks to restore a normal heartbeat if the heart is beating too quickly.
The foundation has launched a separate pilot scheme to subsidise check-ups for family members of people who died from SADS or sudden cardiac arrest. They will be given either half of the consultation fee or up to HK$2,000 for the check-up. The scheme will run until the end of next year.