Exploring Genetic Factors in Exercise-Induced Ischemia

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Exploring Genetic Factors in Exercise-Induced Ischemia

Date of Content: December 12, 2023
Written by: Harvey Talento
Reviewed by: Maarit Tiirikainen, PhD


Understanding Exercise-Induced Ischemia

Exercise-induced ischemia is when the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen during physical activity due to reduced blood flow in the coronary arteries. It can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, and abnormal heart rhythms. It can also increase the potential likelihood of heart attack and heart failure.

Exercise-induced ischemia can potentially lead to wellness consequences, especially for individuals with an unhealthy lifestyle. 

Recognizing these potential issues is crucial, especially for smokers and those with high cholesterol or hypertension, as addressing exercise-induced ischemia becomes even more critical for these specific groups.

Exercise-Induced Ischemia

Genetic Factors Influencing Exercise-Induced Ischemia

The landscape of exercise-induced ischemia is influenced by genetics. Certain genetic elements, like specific variations in key genes, have emerged as crucial players in understanding why some individuals may be more predisposed to potential heart-related challenges during exercise. 

Learning about these genetic factors is important in knowing how our bodies respond to physical exertion and can ultimately guide personalized approaches to heart wellness.

CCL2/MCP-1 Gene

In a study involving 679 siblings of people with early heart disease, scientists discovered that individuals carrying a specific genotype, known as rs1024611 or A-2518G in the MCP-1 gene, independently faced an increased likelihood of experiencing exercise-induced heart issues. Regardless of factors such as age, race, or gender, those with this gene version had an almost twice as high risk.

Studies have found a strong link between the MCP-1 gene A-2518G variant and an increased risk of ischemic heart disease (IHD) and ischemic stroke (IS) when engaged in physical activities. It heightens the risk of heart troubles during exercise, making some individuals more susceptible to experiencing heart-related challenges when they work out.

Understanding this connection sheds light on the genetic side of exercise-induced ischemia, offering insights that could eventually pave the way for personalized approaches to managing and preventing heart issues during physical activity.

Non-Genetic Factor Influencing Exercise-Induced Ischemia

Exercise-induced ischemia is a condition where the blood flow to the heart muscle is insufficient to meet the increased oxygen demand during physical activity. This can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of angina. Environmental factors that can influence exercise-induced ischemia include:


Extreme heat or cold can affect the blood vessels and the heart rate, making it harder for the heart to pump blood efficiently. Heat can also cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, impairing cardiac function. Cold can increase blood viscosity and vasoconstriction, reducing blood flow to the heart.


High altitude can reduce the oxygen content in the air, which can increase the workload of the heart and the risk of ischemia. High altitude can also cause hyperventilation, which can lower the carbon dioxide level in the blood and cause respiratory alkalosis, impairing oxygen delivery to the tissues.

Air Pollution

Exposure to air pollutants such as ozone, particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide can impair the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, leading to inflammation, oxidative stress, endothelial dysfunction, and reduced oxygen uptake. Air pollution can also increase the sympathetic nervous system activity and blood pressure, worsening ischemia.


High humidity can reduce the evaporative cooling of the skin, which can increase the body temperature and the heart rate during exercise. High humidity can also impair respiratory function by increasing airway resistance and mucus secretion, which can reduce oxygen exchange.

Recognizing the Symptoms

A 2006 study focusing on exercise-induced ischemia during exercise stress testing, analyzed symptoms reported by 127 men and 146 women. Detecting ischemia through single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), the prevalence was found to be 66% in men and 24% in women during exercise.

Men’s Symptoms During Exercise Stress Testing:

  • Absence of numb feeling in shoulder or arm
  • Absence of sweaty hands
  • Absence of chest pain described as ‘hot or burning’
  • The presence of chest pain is described as ‘aching’ or ‘heavy’

Women’s Symptoms During Exercise Stress Testing:

  • The presence of numb feeling in the neck or throat
  • The presence of a numb feeling in the chest
  • The presence of tightness in the chest
  • The presence of chest pain is described as ‘hot or burning.’
  • The presence of chest pain was described as ‘fearful’

This comprehensive breakdown sheds light on sex-specific symptoms associated with exercise-induced ischemia in both men and women, enhancing our understanding of the nuanced factors contributing to ischemic events during physical stress testing.


You may follow these suggestions on how to better manage your heart well-being:

  • Consult your doctor before starting any exercise program, especially if you have a history of heart conditions, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other risk factors.
  • Start slowly and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your exercise. Warm up before and cool down after each session.
  • Avoid exercising in extreme temperatures or high altitudes, as they can increase the demand on your heart.
  • Monitor your heart rate and blood pressure during exercise, and stop if you feel any chest pain, unusual shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea.
  • Follow a good diet that is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium, and high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

Exercise-induced ischemia can be prevented and managed with proper care and guidance. By following these suggestions, you can enjoy the benefits of physical activity without compromising your heart wellness.

About the LifeDNA Fitness Report

Explore your unique fitness blueprint with the LifeDNA Fitness Report! This report dives into your genetics to uncover insights about your risk of exercise-induced ischemia and other exercise-related physical measures. It is like having a personalized guidebook to understand how your body responds to exercise.

Discover if your genes suggest a potential risk of exercise-induced ischemia and get personalized tips to tailor your fitness routine accordingly. The LifeDNA Fitness Report is here to make your fitness journey uniquely yours. Start your personalized fitness adventure with LifeDNA—get your Fitness Report today!


  • Exercise-induced ischemia is present when the heart muscle lacks oxygen during physical activity, leading to chest pain, shortness of breath, and increased heart complication risks.
  • Genetics plays a crucial role; a certain rs1024611 genotype in the CCL2/MCP-1 gene increases the risk of heart issues during exercise.
  • Environmental factors such as extreme temperatures, high altitude, air pollution, and humidity impact blood flow and oxygen delivery during exercise.
  • The prevalence of exercise-induced ischemia can be as high as 66% in men and 24% in women during exercise.
  • Consult a doctor before exercise, gradually increase intensity, avoid extremes, monitor your vital signs, and follow a good diet for the heart.


Customer Reviews

Christopher Devlin
Christopher Devlin
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LifeDNA Customer
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Doc Sheila Lim
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*Understanding your genetics can offer valuable insights into your well-being, but it is not deterministic. Your traits can be influenced by the complex interplay involving nature, lifestyle, family history, and others.

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