What Your Family History Means for Your Risk of Heart Disease


Heart disease is a lethal and stealthy opponent to our health.  It takes more lives each year than any other source, health-related or otherwise.  It can sneak up with no symptoms until a major cardiovascular event occurs, and in many cases, it can be frustratingly difficult to predict.  Unfortunately, even those living a healthy lifestyle and watchfully monitoring factors such as their BMI, blood pressure, and cholesterol can still be susceptible to heart disease.  In these cases, it often comes down to heredity.

Researchers have found that when it comes to the development of heart disease, genetics can play just as large a role as blood pressure or cholesterol.  If first- or second-degree relatives suffered from the disease, there is a higher than average chance that you will as well.  Here is what you need to know about the connection:

Which Family Members’ Health History Should you Know?

The clearest indicator of a potential genetic connection with heart disease is its presence in any first-degree relative.  This includes parents, as well as siblings.  The age at which they were diagnosed is also important.  For male relatives, an early diagnosis at age 55 or younger is key.  For female relatives, it’s 65 or younger.  Likewise, second-degree relatives such as grandparents and aunts and uncles can also be important in calculating your heart disease risk.  Although, these connections tend to carry less weight.

How does Family History Factor into Heart Disease?

In addition to the genetic component that can increase your direct risk of heart disease, there are other factors connected to family history that may also be problematic.  For instance, while heart disease may not have been previously diagnosed in close relatives, there may be a family history of other conditions known harmful to heart health such as diabetes or high cholesterol.  Even your family’s shared environment can play a role.  If you were exposed to smoke, poor air or water quality, or an unhealthy diet, your family’s risk of heart disease may be heightened as a result.

What can you do about a Family History of Heart Disease?

Unfortunately, there isn’t anything you can do to change your genetics or the environmental factors to which you have been exposed.  Therefore, a comprehensive understanding of your risk factors and actions to circumvent them are the best available defense.  Those who are at an increased risk of developing heart disease must be vigilant in maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle that includes a nutritious diet, physical activity, and not smoking.  Likewise, it is especially important in these cases to maintain a close watch on health factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight.  Such efforts and awareness can make all the difference in not only preventing heart disease, but also in catching the signs early.

If your family history puts you at an increased risk for heart disease, schedule an appointment with a Cardiovascular Institute of the South cardiologist.  Our physicians can help you better understand what these risk factors mean for you and can provide recommendations to both monitor and improve your health.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff