How well do you know your family history? When it comes to your heart health,
your family may be more important than you think. Both your risk factors
for heart disease, such as obesity or high blood pressure, and your risk
for cardiovascular disease itself are greatly affected by genetics.
Though a family history of heart disease or heart attacks is a potential
risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease yourself, it is your
immediate family who will be most important when considering risk assessment.
Studies have shown that having a first-degree relative – parents
and siblings – who has had a heart attack under the age of 55 increases
your risk by 33 percent, while having two or more such relatives increases
your risk by 50 percent.
So how do you know if you are genetically predisposed to heart disease?
Follow these tips to compile a family heart history:
If you don’t know your family’s full medical history, begin
by talking with your immediate family. Find out if your parents, grandparents,
or siblings have had heart disease, and if so, how old they were when
the disease developed.
The more close family members you have who have suffered a heart attack
or heart disease — and the younger they were when they had heart
problems — will increase your personal risk. Find out if your family
members who have had heart disease had risk factors other than genetics,
such as being a smoker. If they did not, then your genetic risk is even
greater. Also find out if you have a family history of risk factors that
can contribute to heart disease, such as obesity, diabetes, cholesterol
abnormalities, and high blood pressure.
- Don’t worry about ancient history.
It isn’t necessary to research your great-grandparents’ health
histories because the environment and medical treatments were very different
than they are now.
So, what happens if you do have a family history of heart disease? Don’t
panic! Though you are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease
if you are genetically predisposed, lifestyle behaviors are equally important
in helping to stave off or manage heart disease. Here are some important
steps to follow if your family has a history of heart problems.
You can’t pick your family history: You can’t change your genetics,
but if you have a family history of heart disease, changing your environment
Change any behaviors that may contribute to heart disease. Eating healthily,
getting regular exercise, and quitting smoking can all have a huge impact
on your heart health and can help you to ward off heart disease.
Keeping your blood pressure under control and getting your cholesterol
checked are incredibly important if you have a family history of heart
disease, especially if your family members suffered from a heart attack
at a young age. If a family member younger than 55 has a heart attack,
it is imperative that all first-degree relatives are screened.
Share your family’s heart-health history with your healthcare provider
as soon as possible. He or she can work with you to develop a plan that
is right for you and your family.