Monday, November 23, 2009


When new scientific research is released, 23andme updates our genetic info with so-called “clinical reports”. The latest one of these didn’t please me at all.

The reason is I was told that my genetic risk of having something called atrial fibrillation (AF) is higher than average (20.5 percent instead of 15.9 percent in the general population). The estimated hereditary component of AF is around 60 per cent, which means that genes weigh more than environmental factors.

AF in itself is no big deal, but being a type of cardiac arrhythmia – and especially when combined with certain other risk factors (like hypertension or diabetes) – it increases the risk of having a stroke. And that I certainly find worrisome.

AF symptoms: palpitations (racing heart, which I experience not unfrequently); lack of energy (who doesn’t?). All this to say that although it doesn’t mean I have AF, it makes me wonder.

One way to reduce the risk of stroke is treatment with drugs that dilute the blood, preventing potentially dangerous clotting when the arryhtmia hits. One of those drugs is warfarin – and the biggest problem with this drug is determining the right dosage for each person. Too much of it can lead to internal bleeding, to little won't serve its purpose.

Precisely where warfarin is concerned, 23andme also provided me, some time ago, a piece of relevant information about the most likely reaction I should have to it if I ever had to take it. Once again, my genes say that I am apparently more sensitive than average to this drug – which means that I might have to take smaller quantities of it to be on the safe side.

For the first time since I had my genes tested at 23andme, I feel the need to talk about this to my doctor when I next see him. Is this the empowerment they’re always "selling" us as being THE big promise of personal genomics? For the time being, I feel mostly a little unnerved.

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