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For years, Jody Christ, 62, struggled to control her high cholesterol. Her doctors encouraged her to exercise, change her diet and lose weight, but none of that ever seemed to lower her numbers.

When her health plan, the Geisinger Health System of Pennsylvania, offered a genetic test that screens for dozens of hereditary diseases, she submitted a saliva sample and awaited the results. The test revealed she had familial hypercholesterolemia, an inherited condition that causes the body to churn out cholesterol. Her doctors followed up with additional medical tests that showed Ms. Christ had life-threatening blockages in three coronary arteries, prompting triple bypass surgery last year. They also tested her daughter and granddaughter and found that they, too, had the condition, which affects an estimated one million Americans.

Ms. Christ, who lives in Elysburg, Pa., has since gotten her cholesterol under control with medication and credits the genetic test with saving her life. “If I had not taken that test I might be dead by now,” she said.

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