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Family history is an important risk factor for heart disease.
Learning your family’s heart health history can help you understand your own risk for heart disease, and take steps to prevent it.
Even though genetics are a factor in heart disease development, you can make lifestyle changes to reduce your risk. Even small changes, like adding a walk to your daily routine and limiting alcohol, can make a big difference for your heart health.
If you or a loved one are experiencing chest discomfort, shortness of breath, pain or any other signs of distress, please call 911. Talk to your doctor before making any major changes to your lifestyle, medications or activity levels.
Do genetics play a role in heart disease?
Each year, more than 650,000 people in the United States die from heart disease. While medical conditions like high cholesterol and diabetes — and lifestyle factors like an unhealthy diet and lack of physical activity — can increase heart disease risk, so can genetics.
Your risk of developing heart disease is higher, for example, if you have a family member who had a heart attack or needed stents or bypass surgery at a young age. It’s also elevated if you have a family member with a certain condition, like high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes.
Several heart conditions can also be inherited, including arrhythmias (rhythm abnormalities), cardiomyopathy (heart failure) and aortic valve disease (an improperly working heart valve).
Do your (heart health) homework
Because family history is an important risk factor for heart disease, it’s important to learn yours.
You can start by asking your close relatives, such as parents and siblings, if they’ve ever been diagnosed with a heart condition, and at what age. Knowing the age of diagnosis is helpful because it can help determine your risk. For instance, if your father, mother, brother or sister had a heart attack before age 50 your risk of inherited heart disease, heart attack and stroke is higher.
Still, you shouldn’t stop at your immediate family. Learn about your grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews, too. Also make sure you include both your mother’s and father’s sides of the family.
Make sure you approach the conversation with empathy. That way, you can approach a potentially difficult topic with compassion and curiosity. Consider starting with questions like:
Is there a history of high blood pressure or high cholesterol in the family?
Has anyone in the family had a heart attack? How old were they when they had it?
Has anyone in the family had a stroke or heart surgery, or needed a pacemaker?
Once you’ve gathered your family’s heart health history, share the information with your doctor and let them know of any updates, such as a new diagnosis or procedure a family member has had.
Take a total view of your heart health
Although your family’s heart health history is a vital piece of your own health puzzle, it’s not the whole picture. To accurately determine your cardiovascular risk, you need to know and understand your numbers, as well — numbers like your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and triglycerides.
At your annual wellness exam, talk to your doctor about your heart health. You can start by asking:
Is my blood pressure in the normal range?
How are my cholesterol numbers?
Given my personal and family health history, am I at a higher risk for certain heart conditions?
If you have a family history of heart disease, you and your doctor can also talk about whether seeing a cardiologist to help prevent or get early treatment for an inherited heart condition makes sense.
Reduce your risk with small changes
The good news is, even if you’re at an increased risk for heart disease due to your family history, you can reduce your likelihood of developing a condition by adopting healthy lifestyle habits.
In fact, even small changes to your diet or exercise routine can make a big difference in your health. These can include:
Adding a walk to your daily routine
Adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet
Limiting alcohol use
Limiting high-fat or processed foods from your diet
Just be sure to talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routine.
Understanding your risk is an important step toward better heart health. So is making lifestyle changes to reduce your risk. Just don’t forget to pay it forward by sharing your heart health history with the next generation. Healthy hearts mean happier and healthier lives.
Schedule an appointment today
Keep your heart healthy with regular wellness visits and screenings. Find a physician or schedule an appointment today at providence.org/doctors.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.
About the AuthorMore Content by Providence Heart & Vascular Team