Journal of Genetic Counseling

, Volume 27, Issue 5, pp 1040–1048 | Cite as

Psychosocial Impact of a Positive Gene Result for Asymptomatic Relatives at Risk of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

  • Carissa BonnerEmail author
  • Catherine Spinks
  • Christopher Semsarian
  • Alex Barratt
  • Jodie Ingles
  • Kirsten McCaffery
Original Research


Families with a history of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) may be offered genetic testing in addition to clinical surveillance. Asymptomatic family members who are gene positive (silent gene carriers) represent a new group of “patients” who may not develop HCM, with little evidence available to assist clinical management. This study explored experiences of HCM genetic testing to identify potential benefits and harms. Thirty-two individuals previously offered genetic testing for HCM were recruited. Semi-structured interviews were conducted face-to-face or by phone, and transcribed audio-recordings were coded using framework analysis. Key themes were as follows: (1) helping the next generation, (2) misunderstanding risk, (3) discrepancy between actual/perceived impact. Participants described multiple psychological (shock, worry, uncertainty) and behavioural (career, sport, insurance, family planning) consequences, depending on perceived risk. Most considered only the benefits of genetic testing for children or grandchildren, but there were some cases of significant adverse impact. The interpretation of the HCM genetic test result is variable for silent gene carriers and can lead to psychological and behavioural changes. The impact of a positive gene result may be mitigated by increased clarity of the clinical consequences and efforts to ensure informed decision-making, highlighting even further the important role of cardiac genetic counselling.


Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy Genetic testing Genetic counselling Informed decision-making Psychosocial impact 



The authors would like to thank the participants for sharing their experiences and time.

Funding Information

The study was funded by a collaboration grant from the School of Public Health at the University of Sydney. CB is the recipient of a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC)/National Heart Foundation of Australia Early Career Fellowship (#1122788). JI is the recipient of a National Heart Foundation of Australia Future Leader Fellowship (#100833). CSe is the recipient of a NHMRC Practitioner Fellowship (#1059156). KM is the recipient of a NHMRC Career Development Fellowship Level 2 (#1029241). CSp conducted this work to fulfil a professional certification requirement.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Carissa Bonner, Catherine Spinks, Christopher Semsarian, Alex Barratt, Jodie Ingles, and Kirsten McCaffery declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human Studies and Informed Consent

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Animal Studies

No animal studies were carried out by the authors for this article.

Supplementary material

10897_2018_218_MOESM1_ESM.doc (51 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 51 kb)


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Copyright information

© National Society of Genetic Counselors, Inc. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sydney School of Public HealthUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.Sydney Medical SchoolUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  3. 3.Department of CardiologyRoyal Prince Alfred HospitalCamperdownAustralia
  4. 4.Agnes Ginges Centre for Molecular CardiologyCentenary InstituteSydneyAustralia

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