Nearly half of Americans are on edge to suffer from heart disease and a new study conducted by cardiologists at The Ohio State University suggested that black families are at an increased risk of inheriting a dangerous heart condition.

The condition is called dilated cardiomyopathy and it's triggered by the heart's main chamber becoming enlarged. That would impair the heart's ability to pump blood to the rest of a patient's body. Ohio State researchers said the condition often goes unnoticed until it becomes life threatening. The disease was not believed to have a cause.

But now Ohio State has conducted a study of people whose family members have been diagnosed with the disease. The research shows that black families are disproportionately affected. In fact, 39% of black patients who were diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy said they had at least one family member who also suffered. Meanwhile only 28% of white patients in the study revealed that they had family members who were impacted by the disease.

"We clearly document that Black patients have greater risk of dilated cardiomyopathy, and their family members are also more likely to have early signs of the disease," said Dr. Ray Hershberger, a cardiologist and director of the Division of Genetics at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. "There are effective medications and medical interventions that greatly slow disease progression if it develops, but we must first screen those at highest risk to identify those who are predisposed to this condition."

Research unveiled that the age is a factor for patient risk too. Ohio State found that family members of those diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy under the age of 34 faced double the risk of having signs the condition than family members of those diagnosed at an older age.

However, there is a broader message Ohio State took away from its research: Regular screening and early intervention for people with a family history of heart disease can prevent the illness from becoming serious.

"For every patient who is diagnosed with dilated cardiomyopathy, there are members of their family who are at risk," Dr. Hershberger said. "That's why it's critical to identify those who have the gene mutations, screen them regularly for disease development and begin treatment as early as possible."

Ohio State said that treatments for the sickness are effective when these patients are identified.

Researchers said they hope therapies will be developed in the near future to correct the gene mutations that cause the disease before they ever affect the health of those who inherit it.

The CDC said as many as 1 of 500 adults may have dilated cardiomyopathy.